Czech politicians seek way out of election stalemate

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

It is exactly one week since general elections in the Czech Republic produced a stalemate, with the centre right and centre left blocks each winning 100 seats in the lower house. The first tentative negotiations on forming a new government indicate that- politically at least - Czechs are in for a long hot summer.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
It has been a week of speculation and muscle-flexing as the country's political leaders prepare to divide the spoils of power. Although the centre right Civic Democrats won the elections, their victory has been soured by the stalemate. They have been going through the motions of trying to set up a centre right coalition government with the Christian Democrats and the Greens but without support from the opposition the fate of this alliance is doomed. And things are not looking good for it.

The opposition Social Democrats, whose leader Jiri Paroubek is still smarting from his election defeat, have made it clear that any support from the party would not come cheap. At a conference of the party's executive leadership over the weekend all newly elected Social Democrat MPs signed an agreement not to support the emerging centre-right coalition. As head of the runner-up party, Mr. Paroubek is obviously hoping to get his own shot at trying to form a coalition government or at least to thrash as much political capital as he can from the present situation. He told journalists that a new government was not likely to emerge before August and that the Civic Democrats would "sweat blood" before the summer was out. Challenged by newsmen that he was stalling progress on a deal, Mr. Paroubek made it clear he would not be pushed:

"I do not think that August is a distant prospect. If you remember the last but one election in Austria - the negotiations on a new government took many, many months and I think you will agree that Austria has a more developed democracy than the Czech Republic."

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Many political analysts see a German-style coalition between the two main parties as the best way to resolve the impasse. The Civic and Social Democrats have so far ruled out the possibility, but commentators suggest that behind the scenes the two parties may already be dividing the spoils. Even if that were the case it would probably take weeks for such a scenario to be discussed publicly since the two parties have made it clear that they would only cooperate under "extreme circumstances" as a last ditch option. Besides the difficulties of agreeing on pension, health and tax reform, both parties fear that their voters might see such a deal as betrayal - a marriage of convenience in which neither party could deliver on its election promises. Political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova says this is a big mistake:

"As a party - you have the basic idea, you have to think about the priorities you want to realize and then the rest is down to finding an acceptable compromise. You know in Czech society there is still a feeling that compromise and consensus is something immoral. But in western societies the ability to find compromise and concession is highly valued. It is one of the basic skills required. Here when a politician accepts a compromise he is criticised for backing down. But compromises are extremely important because they do not divide society into winners and losers. I know that no-one is totally happy with any compromise. Because everyone thinks it could have been better. But you do not polarize society. Meeting someone half-way is a good thing. Besides I do not believe strongly in these election promises and I think that most voters are also realistic. They understand that this is more rhetoric than reality."