Analyst: Government likely to survive Hlubuček scandal “because at this point there is no alternative”

Petr Hlubuček

Will the police crackdown on an organised crime ring within the Prague Public Transit Company, which included the now former City Hall Councillor Petr Hlubuček of the government represented Mayors and Independents party, have a significant effect on the Czech EU presidency? And will the Czech government survive the scandal of its second largest coalition member? These are just some of the questions I put to political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Petr Fiala | Photo:  Office of Czech Government

“Yes. I do think that the government will be shaken by the ‘Hlubuček affair’, but it will survive, simply because at this point there is no alternative.

"That’s because if the Mayors and Independents (STAN) left the government due to their scandals, the no one could really form a majority government.

"The opposition does not have enough seats and without STAN the Civic Democrats led by Petr Fiala and the other parties cannot really form a majority.”

The government that was in power during the previous Czech EU presidency in 2009 famously fell due to a no-confidence vote. Now it seems that there is another scandal which has occurred just ahead of the presidency term. But, based on what you’re saying, you think it will not impact the Czech EU presidency?

“I don’t think that the Czech EU presidency will be impacted this time the way it was in 2009.

"Of course there will be some impact. That means, that there will likely be some political skirmishes and maybe some instability.

"However, there are not enough votes on the side of the opposition to really bring the government down.

"Therefore, I really don’t see how that could happen unless one of the government parties decided to leave the current government’s camp and joined the opposition.

"This, given the character of opposition, which is populist and extreme right, is currently very unlikely. So I don’t think that the government will collapse, but there will be some instability.”

And what about the Mayors and Independents themselves? This party has been losing its position in the polls since last year’s general elections. This autumn will see the communal elections take place. Do you think that the party can survive this crisis?

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“I think that all government parties will survive this crisis, but, of course, the party that is probably thinking the most about leaving the government is the Pirates.

"It’s not the Mayors and Independents, who I think will do their best to stay in the government.

"The Pirates however, may think of leaving the government at some point simply because they know that their departure would not bring the government down (they only have 4 seats, so it wouldn’t end the government majority which is currently 108 seats to the oppositions 92).

"Furthermore, they also know that if the current government continues in its policies, which are dictated by the Civic Democrats and which are very neoliberal in economic terms, it would damage the Pirates’ reputation of a leftist progressivist party.”

I wanted to ask you about the response of the Pirates, also because they ran in the last general election in a coalition with the Mayors and Independents. Ahead of the election they were expected to be the stronger of the two parties, but it ended up turning out the other way round. Do you think the Pirates separating themselves could be seen by them as a chance to bring back their brand more into the public eye?

“I think that the Pirates are playing the role of an opposition party within the government coalition. They are really the only party in the coalition which opposes some of the policies.

"Occasionally, they have been critical of what is going on inside the Mayors and Independents. This may actually help them because they might be able to step out of the shadow of their general election coalition partner.

"Whether this will be enough to really revive the party is a big question, simply because, as I said, the Pirates, whether they like it or not, are co-responsible for the neoliberal economic policies of the Civic Democratic party in particular, which dictates these policies to the government.

"Therefore, they would probably have to think at some point about leaving the coalition.

"However, I really don’t think that this will happen before the end of the Czech presidency of the EU Council, because they don’t want to create instability, which could perhaps be damaging for the Czech Republic.

"Furthermore, it would be unwise to do so before there is some progress in regards to the war in Ukraine.

"Again, it would be bad for them to leave a government which strongly supports Ukraine at this time, so they will probably wait with any kind of decision on this before the end of the Czech EU presidency, perhaps a more clearer picture of developments in Ukraine and, also, the presidential elections in the Czech Republic which will take place in January next year.”

Petr Hlubuček,  photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

This affair around former Councillor Petr Hlubuček is also having an impact on the ruling coalition at Prague City Hall (which includes the Mayors and Independents, the Pirate Party, the Praha Sobě movement and TOP 09). What sort of impact do you think this is going to have on the next elections and the subsequent coalition building at Prague City Hall?

“I think that in Prague we will see a different coalition after the local elections take place in October.

"The Pirates are not going to repeat their very good performance in the previous election. They are simply not on that level now and, of course, their coalition partner, the Mayors and Independents, will be damaged by their current scandal.

"If we are to believe the current opinion polls, it will probably be the Together coalition (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP 09) that will win and govern Prague.

"That said, we of course still have four months to go, but right now the Together coalition is well ahead of other parties.”