Civic and Social Democrats freeze out election winner TOP 09 at Prague City Hall

The deal for control of Prague City Hall has been made and the result is a grand coalition between the rival Civic Democrat and Social Democrat parties. The controversial outcome means that the centre-right TOP 09 party will now go into opposition, in spite of having won a strong majority at the polls last month, and the Civic Democrats will retain their 20-year hold on power in the capital, despite losing public support in the wake of corruption scandals. Earlier today, Prague-based journalist Erik Best told Radio Prague that the deal carried serious implications for each of the parties.

The head of the Social Democrats in Prague Petr Hulínský,  Zdeněk Tůma  (right),  photo: CTK
“I think this presents some difficulties for the parties in general: it presents a difficulty for Prime Minister Nečas, because his position in the Civic Democratic Party could appear to be weaker. Mr Kalousek, from TOP 09, said that he will be a “sad figure” if a coalition is formed in Prague with the Social Democrats. Mr Kalousek referred to this coalition as the “4K”, which is the “gangster coalition of the corrupt cartel” – that’s a very powerful statement coming from the finance minister when his coalition partners, the Civic Democrats, are in that coalition. I think it also puts TOP 09 in a difficult position. There is talk that TOP 09 would have one seat as a control function, but how can TOP 09 send one of its representatives into a corrupt coalition, or a “gangster coalition of the corrupt cartel”? So it presents difficulties for all of the parties.”

Would you call it a betrayal of the voters?

“Well that’s what it will be considered by a lot of voters. I think voters had some indications before the election that it was going to happen, so from that standpoint it’s not such a surprise. But certainly those voters who expected a different outcome and those who expected the winning party to hold the position of mayor will feel that they have been let down, yes.”

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
How did TOP 09 manage to lose this after such a strong showing at the polls?

“Well, I think the problem was that they put up a candidate, Zdeněk Tůma, who on paper has a good pedigree and is respected, but in reality he was a disappointing candidate. TOP 09 probably should have been able to win 50% of the vote in Prague and form a coalition on its own. But it put up what turned out to be a weak candidate who wasn’t able to really get the disaffected voters out to the polls. You can of course blame it on the existing power structure of the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats, but I think it’s really because TOP 09 got a candidate who was partially what they needed but in the end was a disappointment.”

You, like many others, have taken the view that a grand coalition was actually the goal of the two parties in order to maintain their business interests; do you see the future of Prague government as being plagued by suspicion on the part of the public and potentially corruption scandals?

Karel Schwarzenberg
“Well I’m afraid these suspicions are going to continue. Karel Schwarzenberg, the chairman of TOP 09, said in Reflex magazine yesterday that he expected a grand coalition between the Social and Civic Democrats to come about, and it’s because of this need to get the deals done. He said no one is going to let a silly new party like TOP 09 get in the way of all the deals. And when one of the most respected people in the country is saying this openly in the media, and when the finance minister is talking about a gangster coalition, it’s obviously going to have a great impact on voters and it’s going to cause them to be disillusioned. But at the same time it will mean increased pressure on the parties to clean up their act a bit. So it’s not all bad. At least it brings it out into the light and voters will be able to control it a bit better.”