Archive | October, 2008

>Czech Republic: Social Democrats sweep the board in regional elections


And, as vaguely sensed in yesterday’s post, the Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD) have scored impressive victories over the centre-right in regional polls in – get this – all 13 Czech regions voting yesterday (the 14th, Prague, is technically a municipality so votes at a different time). The centre-right Civic Democrats did not entirely go into electoral meltdown. The turnout was lower than in national elections, suggesting some of their potential supporters may have stayed at home, while the left-wing electorate may have been more highly motivated and highly mobilized, and the Civic Democrats did pull at least 20% of the vote in most regions and running the ČSSD close in some places, but their defeat in all regions is highly unexpected. other minor parties performed pretty much as they always do, although the Greens did poorly and don’t seem to have made it onto any regional authorities at all, which may bode ill for them. As ever, a few independent and local lists gained a few seats, including a new Doctors’ list campaign on health services issues.
The Social Democrats also did well in the 27 Senate seats being contested, but all but one go to a run-off ballot in a week. In most cases, the Civic Democrats also made it in to the run-off. Among the more striking Senate results: the Social Democrats topping the poll in the Brno-City district when they didn’t even make it into the run-off in 2002- the Czech Republic’s second city is usually a bastion of the right (independent right-wing Senator Jiří Zlatuška loses his seat); and the Communists topping the poll with 41% and winning by a very wide margin in the depressed border town of Znojmo, the ace up their sleeve being their candidate, the popular and competent ex-deputy mayor Marta Bayerová.

Political reaction? Many commentators are again marking the card of Civic Democrat PM Mirek Topolánek. ‘Topolánek’s Waterloo’ says right-wing daily Lidové noviny. ‘ODS is one small step from Armageddon’ says ODS mayor of Prague and Topolánek rival, Pavel Bém. How helpful. In truth, while the right may be up against in and faction fighting in ODS may increase, the more interesting question is who will be running 13 of the Czech Republic’s quite powerful regional authorities and how. The Social Democrats seem set to go from zeros to heroes, by gaining a brace of regional governorships. However, in most cases, the arithmetic suggests they will need the support of the Communists to push it through. So the 64,000 Czech crown questions are – does the right want to push ČSSD into alignment with the Communists or concede more gracefully? And, if Communist support is needed, how politically acceptable is that for the Social Democrats?

>Czech Republic: Negative ads put right on the back foot


Czechs go to the polls today and tomorrow in closely watched regional and Senate elections. To mark the end of the campaign centre-right Civic Democrats’ electronic newsletter strikes an uncharacteristically deflated note with some rather plaintive complaints about the tough, negative and very expensive election campaign waged against them by the opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD). The ČSSD message is that the Civic Democrats especially and the current Civic Democrat-led government generally are a band of asocial, price-hiking baddies, who deserve the boot. Apart from some rather unconvincing back-of-envelope psychology about the Napoleonic ambitions and ego of ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek (possibly true, but not exactly uncommon in politics), ODS lacks any real counter apart from that sensible arguments that reform is needed and cash is limited, which will never raise the roof electorally speaking. The Social Democrats’ brutal parody of a supermarket advert – ‘ODS Hypercena. Prices Up on Everything While This Government Lasts’ is likely to prove bluntly effective. It should also probably win some kind of political marketing award for being simple, memorable, and perfectly pitched for its target audience.

And in rebuttal? Well, Novinky ODS tells us ‘Social Democracy… is sowing a whirlwind, which could raise a storm. And it may eventually turn against it’ True enough, but rather seeming to concede that the next parliamentary elections (scheduled for 2010) are lost and the left will reap a bitter harvest by stoking up economic populism in the Czech electorate, which has a big appetite for welfare and public spending which the current tough economic times will probably do nothing to reduce The current elections seem likely to see the Social Democrats gain a couple of regional governorships (they currently hold none) and dent right-wing dominance of the Senate but the real goal seems to be to knock the current minority government off balance, something the Social Democrats mean orange election machine seems well capable of.

>Mobilization papers


I occasionally have doubts about the quality of political science research – or rather I occasionally have doubts the quantity of political science research and the number of journals, working papers and articles you often have to wade through to find anything which is interesting and worth reading. These days the average literature review can be a bit like panning for gold. So it’s always a pleasure when something unexpectedly flashes and catches your eye. In this case some of the online papers lined up for seminar series on political mobilization at Masaryk University’s Institute for Comparative Politics Research. A very interesting paper by Ondřej Čísař building on Sidney Tarrow’s by now fairly well known article about the importance of transactional (as opposed to participatory) social mobilization in CEE, debunking some of the literature on the supposedly nefarious dependency inducing effects of Western funding of CEE NGOs. Neo-Toquevillian notions of a ‘vibrant civil society’ (now how many times have you heard that phrase?) have blinded researchers to the reality that in CEE as increasingly in the old EU15 (but not the US) elite-run advocacy groups with the odd short burst of popular mobilization are pretty much as good as it gets. Moreover, domestic fundraising if anything generates greater pressures oto blunt whatever radical edge social movements and advocacy groups might have Čísař arguments. Grants from foreign foundations and governments and the EU, if anything, probably have bankrolled the injection of new ideas and agendas into CEE not thwarted a nascent social movement sector.
Fans of the literature on neo-corporatism will also probably like an informative paper on the site on Czech tripartitism, which also punctures some of the more causal arguments about ‘ilusory corporatism’. There isn’t a facility to insert comments, but should the author should be reading, personally, I thought the case study on the new Labour Code worked pretty well (but could be cut in length) and that lashings of additional data on Czech unions weren’t really needed. The real issue seem to be that Czech tripartitism rather unremarkable and hard to place comparatively. It ain’t as clearly corporatist as Slovenia nor as rampantly liberal as Estonia, but beyond that it’s hard to get a handle on where the CR and the dynamics of its ‘manifestations of corporation’ fits in the big comparative picture. When I hear the words ‘Czech-Slovak comparision’ I normally reach for my gun, but in this case it might be a good next move.

>Lithuania: I’m a celebrity, get me into there (parliament, that is)


Early results from Lithuania’s parliamentary election provide further, and rather depressing, confirmation of my SSEES colleague Allan Sikk’s work about the the emergence of some party systems in in Baltic and beyond, as a whirlygig of loosely populist parties headed up by celebrity businesspeople and politicians which stand for nothing much more than a ‘project of newness’. In Lithuania a party headed by a reality TV talent show host, the National Revival Party polling 15% is the latest addition.

>EU acCESsion

>The Council for European Studies (CES) website at Columbia has an excellent selection of working papers on EU/European politics, most with social policy/political economy flavour.

>Slovakia: Greens to take new direction?


Slovak right-leaning/liberal daily Smer reports on the difficult relationship with Slovakia’s Green Party. While the Greens in the neighbouring Czech Republic are a key part of a centre-right coalition and relations with the opposition Social Democrats are pretty icy, Slovak Greens, more conventionally, have signed a co-operation agreement with Robert Fico’s governing centre-left Smer (‘Direction’) party. (Having flopped in the early 1990s – as happened in so much of CEE – the Slovak Greens were previously part of the not too successful centre-left e coalition with post-communists and social democrats before Smer came crashing onto the political scene, so there is a of precedent ). However, Prime Minister Fico’s criticisms of radical environmental protesters in the Tatra national park have not endeared him to his new allies in the small extra-parliamentary Green Party and raised doubts about the supposed ‘greening’ of Smer, a party better known for its nationalist and populist inclinations than its post-materialist concerns.

The Greens have also laid into the government’s motorway building plans and are none too keen on the current Minister of the Environment, Ján Chrbet, a member of the radical Slovak National Party (SNS) and his ‘populist’ allocation of EU environmental funds. Commentators quoted by the right-leaning Smer dismiss the party’s ‘greening’ as a superficial exercise designed to boost its social democratic credentials in the eyes of West European partners. Given the Slovak Greens’ dissatisfaction and reasonably good 2.7% rating in recent polls, it looks like they may be tempted to go elsewhere and perhaps try their luck as Czech style eco-liberal party.

>I’d like to teach the world to… vote


Ever been frustrated that the decisions of the US affect you when you have no influence on who gets to the Oval Office? If so, you at least have a chance to ‘vote’ online in a global online poll organized by two Icelanders (who obviously have more reason than most to feel vulnerable in the face of big power global politics and economics just now). Unsuprisingly, Obama sweeps the board in most countries of the world byhuge margins. The more hawkish McCain only gets a decent level of support (20-30%+) if rom online voters in US allies facing some kind of external threat (Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia – the subject of Russian hostility), Israel (no detailed explanation needed) and Columbia (narco-mafia, FARC). He also does well in Nicaragua and Venuzulua, presumably because of pro-US inclination of opponent of left-wing populist governments. I guess McCain’s 20% from Iranian ‘voters’ might also be a gesture of anti-regime sentiment. I’m at a loss, however, as to why McCain does well in Macedonia (90%) or gets a respectable 24% in Russia. My finger hovered over my mouse for a second , but I really wouldn’t want Sarah Palin a heart-beat away from the Presidency, so I clicked for Obama.
At least one British blogger seems to have toyed with the idea of UK becoming the 51st state, which would seem to be a kind of low taxing, eurosceptic’s dream but for those on the liberal-left would have the upside of abolishing the monarchy and putting Obama and sundry other liberal Democrats in the White House. However, as Wikipedia – ever packed with useful information – helpfully points out there is actually a rather long queue to become the 51st state (sorry, I should perhaps say ‘line’, shouldn’t I) with Puerto Rico, Cuba, Australia, Israel and Iraq all having some kind of claim too.

>Americano and electoral reform, please


Having read as much on neo-corporatism and downed as much coffee in one afternoon as was healthy, I turned, as you do, for a bit of light relief to the Slovene electoral system. As a very interesting recent conference paper by Danica Fink-Hafner makes clear, there is (at least to Visegrad-minded ignoramuses such as me) a whole unknown history of (failed) electoral reform in Slovenia with not a few uncanny parallels tothe Czech electoral reform saga of the 1990s, that politicians in Prague now seem intent on reviving for a new decade: main centre right party tries to push for a more majoritarian system; all kinds of reform variants then fly around as parties and politicians sense high stakes are in play, before the Constitutional Court steps in to shoot them down and, when the dust clears, we are left with a slightly less proportional form of PR. Of course, referendums play a key in Slovenia that most Czech politicians (even those theoretically in favour of allowing national referendums) would probably blanche at.

>You know my methods


Do you ever sneak off to read downloaded papers on comparative methodology and concept formation, when you should be churning out empirically-based research on Central and Eastern Europe ? Go on, admit it, I bet you do. If so, you might like a look at the newly revamped website of the Committee on Concepts and Methods. Despite the slightly Orwellian name, it’s headed up by some serious and always- interesting-to-read names (John Gerring, Cas Mudde, Gerardo Munck and Andreas Schedler). More to the point, it also a small treasure trove of working papers including one on conceptualization of patronage by Petr Kopecký as well as pieces on mixed methods, path dependency and other favourite themes.