Czech political parties fail honesty test

Several Czech political parties are reeling from a trap set for them by a newspaper. Top members were shown by the daily to be willing to accept donations in exchange for political favours. The Communist Party has been one of the worst casualties with two of its leaders caught up in the scandal.

Christian Democrat party secretary Jiří Stodůlka,  photo: CTK
The trap to test the honesty of political parties was set by the daily newspaper, Dnes. It pretended a gaming machine businessman was willing to offer parties a million crowns, around 25,000 USD, if they would oppose political moves to clamp down on the sector. It recorded the reactions on a hidden camera.

Three parties — the Communist Party, Christian Democrats and TOP 09 — to varying degrees — took the bait and have suffered the fall out. The TOP 09 member of parliament willing to take a million for the party in return for its support has resigned. The Christian Democrat party secretary who indicated willingness to consider the deal put his post at the party’s disposition and his offer was accepted.

But the Communist Party pain has been greater and lasted longer. The two snared by the newspaper were both deputy chairmen, one of them high profile deputy chairman Jiří Dolejš. The paper says he suggested the fictitious businessman take out adverts in the party newspaper in return for political support.

Under pressure, both stepped down from their party posts on Tuesday, three days after the scandal erupted. But Mr. Dolejš refused to heed a top party committee which called for him to resign as a member of parliament as well.

Political commentator Jiří Pehe says the Communist Party is likely to suffer long term damage from the scandal.

“I think that this scandal will definitely damage the Communists for two reasons. One is that the Communist Party in comparison with other parties looked clean, maybe because it was not part of any government in the last 20 years. But also because of the way that the Communists are handling this scandal is rather clumsy. I think the fact that they did not react immediately by forcing the officials involved in this to resign will damage them.”

Mr Pehe points out that the scandal will also serve to settle a few internal political scores within the party. He says Mr Dolejš’ involvement in the scandal makes any changes to the party’s hard line against reform look even less likely.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“The fact that he was the person involved is very convenient for his opponents because he was, or is, one of the chief representatives of the reformist line or soft line within the Communist Party. Hardliners, such as party chairman [Vojtěch] Filip, are of course now pleased with the fact that they have a pretext to push Dolejš out without really having to fighting an idealogical battle with him.”

Mr Dolejš says that he will fight to clear his name in the courts saying he had not broken any laws. In the meantime, the Communist Party has denied Dnes’s claims that it used the party paper as a channel for secret donations which were not declared according to the law on party financing. Whatever the truth, the party itself has undoubtedly been a casualty.