Centre-right coalition talks proving far from easy

Послевыборные переговоры партии Дела общественные и Гражданской демократической партии (Фото: ЧТК)

Following the weekend general elections, Czech right-wing parties are scrambling to capitalize on their gains and reach agreement on a coalition government of fiscal responsibility. Although there is general agreement on the direction the country should take, Monday’s talks indicated that creating a centre-right coalition will be far from easy.

Václav Klaus,  Civic Democrats' leader Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Concern over growing public debt and a desire for new faces in Czech politics left the winner of the weekend general elections –the Social Democrats – isolated and empty handed. The combined win of two centre-right parties – the Civic Democrats and TOP09 as well as the populist Public Affairs which could swing either way – presented only one viable scenario – a centre-right government with a comfortable 118 seat majority in the 200 seat lower house.

President Václav Klaus, who on Monday met with the leaders of all five parties which won seats in the lower house, broke with tradition in not asking the leader of the party which gained the most votes to try and form a government.

“In order for us to move forward, the parties on the right must hold intensive consultations in the coming hours and days to try and reach agreement on a coalition government. I will hold off from the formal step of naming a prime minister designate until we know the outcome of that effort.”

Public Affairs,  Civic Democrats' leaders during the coalition talks,  photo: CTK
Although together the three parties would have a comfortable majority in the lower house, the stability of such a government is far from certain – especially in view of the fact that Public Affairs is a new and unreadable player on the scene with no track record and a lack of qualified members to fill government posts. This complication is clearly unnerving both the Civic Democrats and TOP09 which although technically just a year old is led by experienced politicians and former ministers. Both parties know that getting Public Affairs on board and maintaining consensus on basic issues is essential for them to be able to govern the country. And Public Affairs is exploiting that advantage to the full. The party’s election leader Vít Bárta made it clear on Monday that his party’s presence in a centre-right government was not a foregone conclusion.

“I must emphasize that there are still many areas of friction, particularly as regards the government’s anti-corruption strategy. This could result in the fact that we would only be prepared to support a minority government under certain conditions, for a certain period of time.”

Other areas of friction include health care reforms and cost-cutting measures. Although the three parties have agreed that cutting the budget deficit is a primary objective, there are differences over how that should be done. Public Affairs, which won 11 percent of the vote on a populist card would have to forget some of its promises to voters –or stay out of the centre-right government. The alternative solution which it presents – supporting a minority centre right government under certain conditions – would leave the two right wing parties badly weakened and very much at the mercy of an unreadable newcomer.

Petr Nečas,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
That is exactly what the Social Democrats – who resent being sidelined by the president – are hoping for. The party’s acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka has made it clear that his party is not ready to throw in the towel.

“At this point it is far from certain that the country is heading for a right-wing coalition government. And it is our duty as Social Democrats to do our best to prevent the establishment of such a government.”