Analyst: TOP 09 in high-stakes game to secure dominant position on political right

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK

Talks are continuing at Prague City Hall between former coalition partners the Civic Democrats and TOP 09. On Monday, the latter withdrew from their coalition agreement, citing concerns over the administration of key areas, including financing, as well as problematic projects such as the overpriced Blanka tunnel. TOP 09 have since offered the Civ Dems a new agreement, one that, however, offers the latter fewer seats on the council and sees them lose the post of mayor.

Bohuslav Svoboda,  photo: CTK
I asked political analyst Jiří Pehe about developments, including whether TOP 09’s stated reasons for the ‘break-up’ were the whole story.

“I think that there is more at stake. We are only a year way from parliamentary elections and TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats are competing for the dominant position on the right side of the political spectrum. Basically, what we are seeing in Prague is a test for what will see next year. TOP 09 members sense that they are becoming the dominant force on the political right and as such don’t see why they should be in a somewhat subservient position at City Hall. After all, it was TOP 09 that won the last municipal elections there and they see no reason to be in this position anymore. So, there is more at stake. It’s true that the reasons given for withdrawing from the coalition are also important: issues over financing and, for example, the costly Blanka tunnel. But I think most of it is really just political jockeying for power.”

All the same, for voters those issues are important, how different projects are financed and so on: is there potential that this sort of power grab could backfire? It is difficult tom imagine that any new council could govern all that effectively given the time they have left to them...

“If TOP 09 takes over, and I think they realise this, things will not be easy for them. They will have to look into projects which until now were run by their Civic Democrat partners and maybe approve audits and really investigate whether there were cases of misappropriation of funds or corruption. There have been signals this is what they want to do. They will accept a lot of responsibility if they do push for a stronger position at City Hall. As far as effective administration is concerned, the council has a bit more time than the government, with municipal elections coming later than the general election next year. TOP 09 are playing a high-stakes game but it could pay off.”

Prague City Hall,  photo: Filip Jandourek
If TOP 09 do come to an agreement on a new coalition with the Civ Dems on what would amount to a reshuffle on the council, is there any way that the current mayor, Bohuslav Svoboda, comes out of this on top?

“My feeling is that a lot of what is going on is about him. He is a good mayor, he is seen as somebody who stands out in the Civic Democratic Party, he is someone not associated with politicians who have been, to a large extent compromised by past activities. And maybe this is exactly the reason why TOP 09 would like to sideline him. They would need to have their own person at the forefront to have that kind of visibility. Mr Svoboda is in a tough position: he is not loved by people within his own party and TOP 09 sees him as one of the few Civic Democrat politicians capable of taking votes away from their own party.”