A crucial week for the two largest parties in post-election negotiations

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

This week is likely to be a crucial one in deciding the next government, but what kind of a government might it be? The Civic Democrats, who won the election, say that there are only two viable options: their minority government supported across the political spectrum by everyone but the Communists - or early elections. The Social Democrats who came in second, on the other hand, have been pushing for something quite different: some kind of agreement that would see them maintain no small measure of political influence.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
Not long ago, Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek told one of the Czech dailies that he was actually "enjoying" post-election negotiations, but this week, which has seen negotiations go into another gear altogether, who can be sure that is the case anymore? Following the death of the proposed Three-Party Coalition, Mr Topolanek's Civic Democrats began new negotiations proposing either a Civic Democrat minority government supported by almost all of the opposition - or early elections. From their perspective, no other options are on the table. Party leader Mirek Topolanek:

"The Civic Democrats - as the winners of the election - are offering all democratic parties the option of a Civic Democrat minority government as a solution to the political stalemate."

By comparison, the Social Democrats' have been proposing something quite different: a semi-caretaker government in which both experts put forward by them - and a majority of Civic Democrats - would hold key posts. So far, Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has seemed confident an agreement will be reached by the end of the week: that's when President Vaclav Klaus explicitly made clear he would like to see substantial progress. The question is who - if anyone - will budge. We asked political analyst Borivoj Hnizdo to discuss how he saw the situation:

Borivoj Hnizdo
"It may be premature to comment on the two different positions but it's quite obvious that the leader of the Civic Democrats (ODS) put a lot of energy into [the previous] agreement between the Green Party and the Christian Democrats and I think that it is very difficult for him to now negotiate only with the Social Democrats. Today's situation is such that some kind of agreement with the Social Democrats in which the two smaller parties will also have a role is the only option for Mr Topolanek."

At the same time, Borivoj Hnizdo says:

"It is quite clear that the Social Democrats don't want to see early elections, particularly the Social democrats want some kind of agreement."

Two more days remain for both parties to at least lay the foundations for an agreement but what the details of any such deal might be are unknown and in case probably nowhere near decided yet. One final interesting development is that a new poll released by Factum Invenio more than two months after the election, now shows the Civic Democrats have gained in popularity despite the deadlock, jumping from around 35 to 41 percent since June. Social Democrat support, by comparison, has dropped by 2 percentage points to 30. That probably doesn't mean much, but certainly party members will hope it will provide Mr Topolanek with a slight psychological edge as further negotiations loom.

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
Finally, we wanted to find out what people on the street thought was now more likely - an agreement this week or an eventual move towards early elections. Here are some of the responses that we got:

"I think that there will be a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Civic Democrats rather than new elections. I think that they will make some concessions and that they will reach a deal."

"I don't know: I think they'll probably reach a deal. At least some of them must be intelligent. Do you know what it would cost to hold early elections? It's their problem if they want to spend taxpayers' money. But, I certainly wouldn't vote again. I just did."

"I think that there will be early elections. For two months they've been unable to agree on anything, so that's the way it has to be."