Opposition deal in Prague could cast a long shadow

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK

Prague Civic Democrat leader Bohuslav Svoboda was elected mayor of Prague on Tuesday in one of the stormiest sessions City Hall has ever witnessed. Hundreds of protesters turned out for the election to demonstrate their anger against the power-sharing deal between the Civic and Social Democrats, which froze out election winner TOP09. The session had to be postponed four times as police and security guards fought to maintain order and when it finally got underway Mr. Svoboda’s speech to the assembly was punctuated by booing and derisive laughter. It was a bitter victory for the 66-year old gynecologist, who promised a thorough overhaul at City Hall in the wake of a string of corruption scandals. The question is –is he really in a position to deliver on that promise? Political analyst Jiří Pehe:

Bohuslav Svoboda,  photo: CTK
“I am afraid that the protests we saw at Prague City Hall – both outside and inside the assembly hall – show that many people believe that Mr. Svoboda - although he may be an honest man – doesn’t have much chance of cleaning up Prague politics. I think the real reason for the protest is that most people simply do not believe that anything will change at Prague City Hall – that the real movers and shakers remain and that people like Mr. Svoboda are just figureheads who don’t really have the power to change anything in the way that Prague functions.”

Paradoxically, the Civic Democrat leader at the national level – Prime Minister Petr Nečas was also handpicked to clean up the party’s tarnished image. Mr. Nečas clearly does not approve of this power-sharing deal in Prague, but he was obviously unable to prevent it. What does that imply about his position and his chances of cleaning up the party as such?

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
“I am afraid that neither Petr Nečas nor Bohuslav Sobotka, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, are really in control of their parties. They are officially leaders of their parties, but when it comes to real business we can see that various structures that exist on the municipal level, various businessmen who are connected to concrete politicians on the municipal level have more influence than the actual leaders of the respective parties. I think this is a real problem. The Civic Democratic Party may really be damaged by this fact, much more than the Social Democratic Party because the Social Democratic Party is just a junior partner in the coalition in Prague and, moreover, Social Democrat voters do not have a real alternative –unless they want to switch to the communist party - whereas for the Civic Democratic Party there is a real danger that after this latest incident in Prague their voters will start switching –even more than in the past – to TOP09. The Civic Democrats may lose some of their supporters and this may start a panic in the party. So I think that Mr. Nečas is in a very difficult position and the fact that he has not been able to clean up his party and change things may in the end cost him his political future.”

The protests at Prague City Hall,  photo: CTK
Is there a lesson to be learnt for TOP 09, the winner of local elections in Prague?

“Well, TOP 09 showed to some extent that it is not a very experienced political party and perhaps it could have negotiated more skillfully, but I would say that TOP09 is in a very good position right now because it may simply sit and do nothing and wait for centre-right voters to switch allegiances and turn away from the Civic Democratic Party. But on the central level what happened in Prague will damage relations between TOP 09 and the Civic Democratic Party and it may subsequently damage the functioning of the government.”

How badly could it damage the governing coalition?

Prague TOP 09 leader Zdeněk Tůma,  photo: CTK
“Well, the governing coalition is really under pressure on many different fronts. It is not just this now seriously damaged relationship between the Civic Democratic Party and TOP 09 where it seems that the two parties are fighting each other more intensively than the Civic Democratic Party is willing to fight the Social Democrats on many levels, but it is also the situation with the third party – the Public Affairs Party – which is really not doing very well in opinion polls and one can already sense a degree of panic in this party. That is of course a bad omen for the government because it seems to me that at this point the Public Affairs Party has no choice but either to play the role of an internal opposition within the government or to leave the government and that is of course a highly destabilizing situation.”