New center-left coalition government gets down to business

Bohuslav Sobotka, Andrej Babiš, Pavel Bělobrádek, photo: CTK

The appointment of a new center-left coalition government to office on Wednesday has ended a six- month power vacuum during which the country was ruled by an interim administration handpicked by the president. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s three party coalition has promised to boost economic growth, streamline state administration, raise pensions and bring the country back to the EU mainstream. But commentators are already predicting hard times ahead for an alliance of parties as politically diverse as the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats. I asked commentator Jiří Pehe what could hold them together.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  Andrej Babiš,  Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: CTK
“Well, I think that what will keep these three very different subjects together is their program, which is a compromise, I personally think it is a well-negotiated program which doesn’t set its ambitions too high, secondly, I think it is the fear of President Zeman that he would get back into the political mainstream, so to speak, if those parties do not stick together and he would start again what we experienced with him last year and then finally, I think it may be the desire especially by the ANO movement but also the Christian Democrats (ANO is in government for the first time and the Christian Democrats after a long time) to succeed.”

Will it not create tensions to have a prime minister from one party – the strongest party in government- and a finance minister from another? This created serious problems for the former center-right government…

“Certainly it is a problem. It would be a problem in any government, on the other hand in this very difficult time it seems to me that it may be advantageous for the Social Democrats to give the finance ministry to Mr. Babiš and his ANO simply because he is promising to put the state finances in order without raising taxes and without any draconian measures and everyone will be waiting for him to deliver. So, yes, on the one hand of course politically it is something that can be used against the prime minister but at the same time because the Czech economy is not in the best shape it may be to the advantage of the Social Democrats to give this particular ministry to a coalition partner.”

What are the coalition’s chances of delivering on their promises – because it does not seem they have the money for it?

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
“Well, I think that some of their promises will be difficult to fulfill. At the same time, they have been smart enough to say that if they discover that some of those promises cannot be financed without raising taxes then they will go back to the negotiating table and think about raising taxes next year. So they gave themselves some leeway which they will be able to use politically, to deflect attacks or criticism from the opposition. But I think that since the main goal of this coalition is to make the state functional again, to adopt a law on the civil service and other laws which would make the state functional rather than dysfunctional as it is in many ways today, then they have a tangible agenda that they will be able to meet and thereby they may be able to persuade the public that they succeeded in meeting a lot of their goals.”