>Czech Republic (again): Prague mayor to challenge PM


Yet more on the Czech Republic, I’m afraid where, perhaps spurred by the general atmosphere of real and impending crisis – things are moving fast. Prague mayor Pavel Bém has told PM Miroslav Topolánek “Come upon punk, make my day” and announced he will challenge him at the forthcoming congress of for the leadership of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Well, actually he said “You wanted it, Mirek, so you can have it ” following the PM’s disparaging remarks in a newspaper interview about his leadership potential, but you get the picture. Bém has, it seems, a good chance of winning, but it is apparent from his remarks, some vague waffle about ‘conservative values’ , that he has little in the way of a programme for the main party of Czech right, still less the kind of strategic vision that might keep the Czech Republic’s delicate – but successful – balance of the ‘social’ and liberal.
The nightmare vision being floated by some commentators (such as the Final Word of the one page Czech daily news digest The Fleet Sheet ) is that some kind of re-constructed caretaker government will be put together by President Klaus, which will not only fail to get the Lisbon Treaty ratified by the Czech parliament (the CR is one of the handful of EU states not to have done this), but cause eurosceptic havoc in the EU just as the Czechs get to hold to Union’s Presidency, not so much sweetening Europe as leaving a very bitter taste in the mouth.

The Final Word scenario of a Klaus coup culminating in the CR being slung out of the EU, however, strikes me as a bit fanciful. I can fully believe that President Klaus would love to pull the strings from Prague Castle, intervening in politics in the just the way he also criticized President Havel for doing (I always though the charge about half justified). I wonder, however, whether there are really the votes in the Czech parliament to deliver a government with the ideological stamp of Klaus on it. The anti-Topolánek forces are also a disparate bunch and there is reason to suspect that some of Bém’s business/political dealings make him an accident waiting to happen.

There are also those who think that for all his unsophisticated bluster and lack of intellectual polish Topolánek’s perhaps soon-to-end tenure as leader did sketch out a political model for the Czech right that, if improved and adapted, could serve it give it a continuing voice in Czech politics: co-oridnated reforms off tax, welfare, and public services in a single package, a pragmatic mix pro-market policies with state intervention to support key groups working mothers and young people; an iinherent willingness to compromise with (and co-opt the agendas of) smaller parties like the Greens and the Christian Democrats; and, course, a junking of quixotic Klaus obsessions such as climate change denial, rants against multi-culturalism that does not exist in the Czech Republic, and grandoise fantasy visions of remade, de-integrated EU.

Topolánek, unluckily for him, was outplayed by a better, tougher leader in Jiří Paroubek and caught by circumstances no incumbent could control. If ODS descends into factional conflict, – and junks what passes for ideological debate in the party- as it threatened to do, but didn’t, following Klaus’s semi-forced departure as leader in 2002, then Paroubek may manage to establish the Social Democrats as the natural party of government in the Czech Republic, although global economic conditions and the problem of how to handle the Communists (already painfully evident in difficulties forming coalitions at the regional level) may make this less than straightfoward.

The future may be orange, but it isn’t bright.

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