Czechs disheartened by political developments, but unwilling to trust “new faces”

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

The past weekend saw the establishment of yet another political entity on the Czech scene- the Citizens’ Rights Party founded by supporters of the former prime minister Miloš Zeman who is set to come out of retirement. It comes hard on the heels of two other newcomers in 2009– an alternative Green party calling itself the Democratic Green Party and TOPO9 established by the former Christian Democrat finance minister Miroslav Kalousek. All three promise disgruntled Czech voters a brighter future but offer few new faces. Do these parties really provide an alternative and can Czechs trust the same old politicians under a new name? Political analyst Jiří Pehe says that while Czech politics needs new blood –Czech voters are not yet ready to put their money on a new face.

“This is a strange phenomenon in Czech politics. On the one hand we see in opinion polls that people complain about the existing parties and the political establishment that has been in power in some cases for 20 years – but at the same time when a new party with new faces is established it usually doesn’t get too much support and it takes political matadors such as Mr. Zeman to actually take up the party leadership for that party to become well-known and possibly score with the public.”

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK
Why is it that Czech voters seem to trust politicians who have been around, and even disappointed them but when they set up a new party they regain support? Are Czechs not willing to put their trust in young, new faces?

“Well, I think that the fact that Czechs do not trust new faces in politics has to do a lot with the media. The media tend to be quite critical of politicians who are in power but quite often when one of these political matadors steps down and is no longer visible a degree of nostalgia sets in. We can see this with Mr. Zeman who was not very popular with the media when he was in power but later journalists made regular pilgrimages to his house and presented a picture of him as a political “elder” who still has things to say about Czech politics and could be potentially important. That’s one part of it – another factor is that Czech voters are quite conservative. We can see it again and again that voters express -in opinion surveys - a large degree of mistrust in political parties and leaders but when it actually comes to voting they vote for established parties and do not give newcomers a chance.”

A lot of small new parties are going to take away votes from the two biggest parties on the scene –is the Czech Republic a country of coalition governments or is it time to think about changing the electoral law to winner-takes-it-all – in view of the problems coalition governments have brought?

“I do not think the Czech electoral system should be radically changed. I think it could be adjusted to make it possible to create coalitions that have the kind of majority which would make it possible for them to govern, but I would really warn against the adoption of an electoral law that would introduce a majority system, especially a one-round majority system which inevitably leads to one-party rule. That kind of system is good for well-established democracies with a long tradition and political culture. In new democracies political leaders and parties are quite prone to misusing their power, to manipulating the system to influence decisions in institutions which should be independent by definition such as central banks, public media and so on. If we had a system which would make it possible for one party to have unlimited power for four years I think that the temptation for that party to control institutions which should remain independent by definition would be too great.”