Junior party warns it will push through priorities or leave government

Photo: CTK

Public Affairs – the junior partner in the government coalition – held a policy conference at the weekend seen largely as a litmus test on the party’s future direction. After rising to the forefront of Czech politics in May, the party lost much of its lustre almost as quickly, finding all too little room to manoeuvre next to its right-of-centre partners. At the weekend, party members, including leader Radek John, pledged to push more strongly their top priorities such as their anti-corruption package or a new softer approach on a number of previously agreed reforms.

Radek John (in the front), photo: CTK
A little earlier Radio Prague discussed Public Affair’s position with political analyst Jiří Pehe.

“Public Affairs is a party that is indeed under a lot of pressure. Before the elections in May they presented themselves as a protest party, as an alternative to the country’s political ‘dinosaurs’; but after the elections it went ahead and entered the Jurassic Park of Czech politics by joining the ruling coalition. Now it is paying the price. Frankly, it never had much to offer with the exception of its protest stances and its fight against corruption. And even the second part of its programme has not really been prominent.”

What kind of message is the party sending after the weekend, not least when it comes to certain planned government reforms?

Photo: CTK
“I think that the party is trying to now send a message that it will more greatly respect certain social issues. However, I think it is a problematic stance. The Czechs are quite sensitive to this political attitude: in the past, for example, we had the Christian Democrats a party in several governments, most governments after 1989, which always behaved as if it were in the ‘opposition’.

“If Public Affairs decide to stay in the government but at the same time behave like the ‘internal’ opposition, it may not go over well with voters. Certainly the party is in a difficult position and in my opinion, under such circumstances, it would be better for Public Affairs to simply leave the coalition.”

At the weekend, they warned they might do just that if their anti-corruption measures are not adopted. Is the threat serious?

“I think we have to read the language of the resolution that they adopted quite carefully. The language shows quite clearly the threat is not serious: it says that the party will consider leaving the government – consider the move – if its anti-corruption programme is not implemented by 2011. The language shows that the party’s leaders are unwilling to take a tough stance: the fact that they will only ‘consider’ leaving probably means that they won’t. So I don’t think that they made a very strong impression on voters who believe corruption in the Czech Republic is a serious problem. In the end they really only have two options: either they will play a tough game and leave the government or they will stay and in the end simply say ‘We couldn’t do anything as the junior party in government.”