A disappointing waste of time? MPs look back at four-year term as lower house meets for final session

The Chamber of Deputies, photo: CTK

Ten days before the general elections, the lower house of the Czech Parliament met on Tuesday for its last session. Most of the MPs are running again; some have quit, and others only stand a little chance of re-entering the house. How do the deputies themselves feel about the term that’s about to end?

Czech MPs gathered in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday morning for the last time before the house is dissolved, and a new one is formed following May’s general election. Their agenda included a vote to overturn the president’s veto on cap and trade, bills on anti-corruption measures, gardening, and maternity leave, among others. But it’s only a shade of some of the intense battles the house saw in the past four years.

Cyril Svoboda
Christian Democrat leader and senior MP Cyril Svoboda was a minister in Mr Topolánek’s government which fell in a vote of no-confidence last March – in the middle of the Czech presidency of the EU. For Mr Svoboda, this was a crucial moment of the whole term.

“I admit I’m disappointed because of the recent development after the disaster during the Czech presidency, when the Czech government was defeated. Something happened and since then, the atmosphere has become very ambiguous. All the debates have been very tense, and election campaigning prevailed over other, more important tasks we had.”

For some, it was a disaster, for others a victory. Social Democrat Jan Hamáček, who voted against the government, has completed his first four years as MP. He says that the moments to remember definitely include the re-election of President Václav Klaus.

“Well, certainly the presidential election; I think it was not a standard election and there are still doubts about how the president was elected. But for me, it was one of the strongest moments that I will remember from this term. Then the whole issue with the government, how it was voted in and voted out. So I would say these were the most remarkable events.”

The Chamber of Deputies,  photo: CTK
Most of the 200 MPs are running for re-election; several deputies, including former prime minister Mirek Topolánek, have given up their seats in the house; and others have decided to quit politics for good. One of them is ex-Civic Democrat Vlastimil Tlustý, who was instrumental in bringing down the government run by his former party.

“I’ve spent 18 years here in this building, and it’s enough.”

Is there any moment that you will remember from the past four years?

“A year ago, when we decided not to support the government of Mr Topolánek. That was probably the most important moment.”

Compared to previous terms, how would you describe this term?

“You mean these past four years? A waste of time.”

One of the longest-serving deputies is Communist Miroslav Grebeníček. Known as a party hard-liner with little remorse for the four decades of totalitarian regime, he first became MP in 1990. He says the level of debate has sunk the lowest he has seen.

“I’m extremely embarrassed. I have seen a lot in those 20 years I’ve been in politics but nothing as low and narrow-minded. There is something to the saying that a nation gets the government it deserves. I don’t want to be too ironic here but the politicians, as well as those who vote for them, are still learning.”

The next chance to learn will come at the end of next week, when Czechs will elect deputies for the next four years.