Coalition talks going smoothly

From left to right: Cyril Svoboda, Hana Marvanova, Vladimir Spidla a Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK

One of the main fears in the weeks leading up to the Czech parliamentary elections was that the outcome would be inconclusive, followed by long and agonizing talks to put together a coalition. But with the Social Democrats as clear and confident victors, the post-election horse-trading is going surprisingly smoothly. David Vaughan reports.

From left to right: Cyril Svoboda, Hana Marvanová, Vladimír ©pidla a Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
The Social Democrats are in a position to put together a majority government with the centrist Christian Democrats and the liberal Freedom Union, although their majority will be by the slimmest of margins - just one seat in parliament. Although the three parties have different political ideals and a very different voter base, all three have gone out of their way to show a willingness to compromise in putting a government together.

The Social Democrats have produced a draft coalition agreement that is firmly left of centre. The proposal stresses the welfare state, support for those in low-paid jobs and a commitment to free education and subsidized health care. These principles are far from the ideals of the firmly right-wing Freedom Union, but with just eight seats in parliament - a result that was little short of electoral disaster - the party has a weak negotiating position, and is fighting for survival. So concerned were the Social Democrats about the evident fragility of the Freedom Union that they initially demanded written guarantees that the party and its partnership with the Christian Democrats would not disintegrate during the four-year electoral term. Social Democrat leader, Vladimir Spidla has now said that he will be happy with a promise given by word of mouth. And the Social Democrats have made further concessions. Their two smaller partners wanted guarantees that the Social Democrats would not ignore them in crucial parliamentary votes by turning to the Communists for support. After initially rejecting the idea, Mr Spidla has now agreed to put some kind of promise on paper.

In some respects the three parties are close. If, as seems very likely, they do manage to hammer out a coalition agreement, the new government will be firmly pro-European, pushing the anti-European Communists and Euro-sceptic Civic Democrats firmly into the sidelines. Interestingly, all three parties have also said that they support a change to the Constitution that will enable the president to be elected directly by voters themselves, rather than by parliament.

The Social and Christian Democrats are even making overtures to the main loser in the election, Civic Democratic Party leader, Vaclav Klaus. It seems quite likely that he will be able to keep his influential position as parliamentary chairman.

Barring a last minute rift, we can expect a final coalition agreement at the beginning of next week.