Czech Republic braces itself for weeks of political uncertainty

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

The Czechs have gone to the polls: after eight years in government, the Social Democrats are to make room for the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats, with their sweeping promises of pro-market reforms and tax cuts. But that is not the end of the story. The Civic Democrats will only be able to form a majority government if they join forces with the Social Democrats. They have already rejected any form of cooperation with the Communists. The leaders of the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats so far rule out a Grand Coalition, leaving the country in political deadlock. Dita Asiedu reports:

Pavel Kovacik and Vojtech Filip,  photo: CTK
The weekend's elections have the Czech political scene split in the middle. The lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, is made up of 200 seats. But exactly one hundred MPs will represent the left, in the form of the Social Democrats and the Communists. The other half will be made up of the winning Civic Democrats and the Christian Democrats, both right of centre, along with the centrist Greens, newcomers to the lower house.

"Now don't let's pretend that you will be able to form a majority government. Are you planning to buy someone's support, or what are you going to do?"

...the leader of the Communist Party, Vojtech Filip, said during a TV debate on Sunday. And, he is not that far from the truth. Political commentator, Jan Bures:

"I think that the situation is really very complicated because both blocs don't have a majority in Parliament. In my opinion I think that the first possibility is to build a coalition between the Civic Democratic Party, the Greens, and the Christian Democrats but they have to look for some kind of support from the Social Democrats. It will be a very interesting process to see whether the Social Democrats will accept this situation and will want to support this centre-right coalition."

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
But talks with the Social Democrats could have their complications. In a surprise statement shortly after the election results came in on Saturday, Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek called into question the validity of the whole poll, accusing the Civic Democrats of holding an unethical election campaign and orchestrating several scandals to discredit him and his party:

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
"I have filed a criminal complaint against Mr Topolanek for claiming that I have been meeting with the heads of the Prague mafia. A police investigation is also underway into other damaging allegations. Should my words be confirmed, then we will take the necessary steps to call into question the validity of the elections."

In a television debate Mr Paroubek was happy to point out to the other party leaders, that his party will play an important role in the country's political future:

"I would like to remind you, gentlemen, just in case you haven't realised it yet, that you will not even be able to lift a finger without us, the opposition."

At their party leadership meeting on Sunday, the Social Democrats decided that they would prefer to go into opposition, but they have not rejected outright some kind of coalition.

President Vaclav Klaus and Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
On Monday, President Vaclav Klaus officially entrusted Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek with the formation of a new government. Mr Topolanek will first hold talks with the Christian Democrats and the Greens. But he will not necessarily stop there:

"In the next few days we will try to hold talks with the potential partners and I will not exclude the Social Democrats in order to be able to sort out the situation we find ourselves in."

Mr Topolanek has vowed to step down as party leader, if he fails to form a new government.

The constitution allows three tries at forming a government. Should they fail, the country will face early elections. No matter what happens, the Civic Democrats will face some tough negotiations and the Czech Republic can brace itself for several weeks of political uncertainty.