Four-Party Coalition or one-party coalition?

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Less than 5 months before general elections, the Czech political scene is far from settled. The minority Social Democrat government remains in power only thanks to what is known as "the Opposition Agreement" with the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats. The rest of the opposition is quite varied. There are the communists who have a faithful electorate, but no friends in Parliament. And finally the 4-Party Coalition, a group of four parties. Or is it? Pavla Horakova has more.

Four-Party Coalition logo
Four right-of-centre opposition parties - angered by the Opposition Agreement and keen to become a major player - formed a coalition two years ago. But at the end of last year, one of the bigger parties, the Freedom Union swallowed the tiny Democratic Union and the Four-Party Coalition became a coalition of three parties. Now another small member of the coalition faces the end of its existence as an independent party. I asked Vaclav Zak, editor-in-chief of the political bi-monthly Listy why the coalition decided to reduce the number of parties.

"I think it's a result of our election law. The constitutional court didn't cancel the condition of an additive quorum for coalitions, so we are maybe the only country in the world where coalitions must have additional quorum, that means the Four-Party Coalition would need 20 percent in the elections, so it could be dangerous for them, so they decided to integrate two parties, so the threshold would be only 15 percent for them."

The seriously indebted Civic Democratic Alliance was recently given an ultimatum by the Christian Democrats: either they settle their debt or they will be removed from the Four-Party Coalition lists of candidates. Now the parties seem to have reached a compromise: if the Civic Democratic Alliance also integrates with the Freedom Union, their debt will be jointly covered by the two big coalition parties. Vaclav Zak again.

"The debt of the Civic Democratic Alliance, the smallest party, is not a normal debt. There were really very suspicious transactions around this debt and they tried to cover it with some fraudulent dealings with virtual firms. So I think if the Four-Party Coalition would like to show they won't cover such dealings, they should solve these debts. And I think the Civic Democratic Alliance should cope with their past, apologise for their dealings and they really should solve their debt somehow. And if they are not able to do it, they should really dissolve their party and enter as personalities on the candidate lists of the Four-Party Coalition."

It now looks that only two parties might remain in the coalition. But do the rather conservative Christian Democrats and the liberal Freedom Union have enough in common to form a stable coalition? Commentator Vaclav Zak.

"I think there is a great tension between these two parties in fact. And you can see it on their programme document that they are unable to formulate any clear programme, what they will do after they enter the government, because they hide all these differences. It would be better for the voters if the parties decided and were able to formulate a programme before elections that would be clear. At present the differences between the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union are, I am afraid, great."

To complicate the pre-election situation even further, a new right-of-centre party called Nadeje or Hope was founded yesterday. But is there room for another right-of-centre party on the Czech political scene? And does this new party present a serious threat to the 4-Party Coalition or its individual members?

"Well, this party 'Hope' is closely connected to President Havel. I think this party has a chance to succeed in the elections only if President Havel stands at its head. But that would mean that Mr Havel would have to resign frrm his presidential office and I suspect he won't do it. And the present election law will force parties to have not only a five-percent threshold, but maybe even a ten-percent threshold in some small places. It is very improbable that this new party could pass such a threshold. So the party 'Hope' has in fact no political future."