New Czech government slowly taking shape

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

It's been over two weeks since the Czech elections heralded a result no one really wanted: an election deadlock. The victorious Civic Democrats and their likely coalition allies could only muster a total of 100 seats—still one short of a majority in the lower house. Meanwhile, the second-place finishers, the Social Democrats, were saying that they would refuse to support a coalition of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Greens. But there seems to have been a shift in thinking now.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
Just over two weeks ago the leader of the Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, was entrusted by President Klaus to try and form a government, and ever since Mr. Topolanek has been in intense negotiations with the two smaller parties which made it into the lower house: the Christian Democrats, and the Greens, who are newcomers. Late last week these three parties publicly said that they are close to forming a deal—in other words, that they have found common ground on which to form a workable government. The three negotiating teams met again on Monday night to iron-out what they say are the final details in their coalition agreement—the details of which will be released in the coming days.

Martin Bursik,  photo: CTK
Thus far reports say that some of the main stumbling blocks in Monday night's key meeting involved issues especially important to the Greens. For example, whether long-distance trucks should continue to use motorways on weekends, and whether more nuclear power stations should be built? The Greens, of course, would like to see weekend bans on long-distance trucks and definitely no new nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. Sources also say that the leader of the Greens, Martin Bursik, is likely to hold two posts in the new government: he will be one of the three deputy prime ministers, as well as the obvious choice for Minister of the Environment.

The negotiating teams have also revealed the numerical division of ministry posts: when the new coalition is formally introduced, the Civic Democrats will hold nine ministry postings, and the Christian Democrats and the Greens will each hold three posts.

Otherwise, the negotiating teams of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Greens have kept a rather tight rein on information. A fact that is not surprising given how fragile a situation they are dealing with—a joint mandate of just 100 seats leaves no room for public quarrels and petty fights. If Mr. Topolanek and his allies want to make this government coalition work, they can not leave the Social Democratic leader, Mr. Paroubek, any room to divide them.

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
As the weekend hours were drawing to a close, Mr. Topolanek and Mr. Paroubek met privately for face-to-face discussions. For over two weeks the Social Democratic leader, Jiri Paroubek, was insisting that his party would have nothing to do with supporting Mr. Topolanek's coalition of 100 MPs in a vote of confidence. Now the daily Lidove Noviny reports that Mr. Paroubek and the Social Democrats may be willing to tolerate the centre-right coalition which is in the works.

Of course Mr. Paroubek has outlined specific conditions for this support. Namely, he says the Social Democrats can not accept the so-called flat tax—a key component of the Civic Democratic election platform. Mr. Paroubek is also opposed to raising taxes on food products and medicine, and to the privatization of public services—especially those in the healthcare sector.

Many of Mr. Paroubek's stated conditions are not acceptable for Mr. Topolanek and the Civic Democrats, so although the leaders of the two major parties are now talking, in real terms it seems that they are still far away from a concrete agreement. In fact, it is looking more and more likely that Mr. Topolanek will take the risk and introduce his government coalition of 100 with no pre-arranged support from the Social Democrats.