No early elections after last minute U-turn by Social Democrats

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What a difference a day makes – especially in Czech politics. Few would have thought much stood in the way of the dissolution of parliament and early elections after what looked like agreement between the two largest parties – the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats. But the Social Democrats performed an abrupt U-turn on Tuesday – early elections are now off, and Czechs will have to wait until next year to cast their vote.

Politicians have been literally lining up in parliament to appear before the news cameras at 30 minute intervals, as word spread that the Social Democrats had sunk a planned deal to dissolve parliament and call early elections in November. The Social Democrats held two news briefings to explain their surprise decision.

Party leader Jiří Paroubek said it was certainly not because the Social Democrats would lose those elections – on the contrary, they are clearly riding high in the polls he said. Rather it was because the party had been convinced by a report from a think-tank called the Parliamentary Institute that the Constitutional Court would shoot down any further attempt to dissolve parliament.

“We’re looking for a way of ending the parliamentary term, but that way must not only conform to the constitution as we see it, it must also anticipate the decision of the Constitutional Court. And the Parliamentary Institute says the Constitutional Court will in all probability reject early elections in November. So either we have to look for a different solution – and I think we’ve done enough by now to find one – or we have to be content with the regular election term – i.e. elections at the end of May 2010.”

Jiří Paroubek and Mirek Topolánek, photo: ČTK
Jiří Paroubek said risking rejection by the Constitutional Court would be suicidal, likening it to Polish cavalry attacks on German tanks in 1939. His words found little understanding from his political rivals – Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek was scathing in his denunciation of the Social Democrat turnaround.

“Today’s decision by Jiří Paroubek and the Social Democrats means nothing for the whole country but a deepening of the crisis and further destabilisation of the political scene. Jiří Paroubek repeatedly puts his personal interests above those of the Czech Republic. This first happened in the middle of the Czech presidency of the European Union. Today is just another example of the irresponsible and blind attitude of Jiří Paroubek and his party. Jiří Paroubek has failed. A politician who turns around 180 degrees from one evening to the next and breaks all agreements cannot be trusted by anyone.”

Mr Topolánek then announced he would resign his MP’s seat if Tuesday’s vote to dissolve the chamber failed to go ahead. Further political fallout is expected – the Social Democrats move was entirely unexpected. But not entirely illogical according to some analysts – the party may be riding high in the polls, but elections in November were far from perfect for both financial and political reasons. The same analysts believe the situation is far from catastrophic for Mr Topolánek either – by resigning from parliament he can wash his hands of the whole embarrassing affair.