Paroubek warns Social Democrat MPs over radar base ratification vote

Jiří Paroubek (Foto: ČTK)

The leader of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, issued a stern warning to his 71 MPs on Wednesday – vote in favour of the plan to allow a U.S. radar base on Czech territory, and you could find yourself off the list of candidates when the next election comes around. A vote on the issue is not due for several months, but Czech supporters and opponents of missile defence are already marshalling their forces for what looks to be a tough battle.

Jiří Paroubek (Foto: ČTK)
Czech and American officials are in the process of negotiating two treaties on deploying a radar base on Czech soil. The main treaty, which governs how the radar will operate and how it will be protected etc, and a so-called Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA, which will govern the rules of deployment for the American military personnel who will man the base. Talks on the former are almost complete. Talks on the second are still underway, but expected to be concluded within months.

However this does not mean Czech involvement in the U.S. missile defence shield is a done deal. The radar base would be manned by American soldiers, and for that the Topolánek government needs the approval of the Czech parliament. At this point some very complicated parliamentary maths comes in.

Mirek Topolánek (Foto: ČTK)
There are 200 seats in the lower house. Mr Topolánek’s party, the Civic Democrats, have 81 MPs, all of whom are expected to vote in favour. Their coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, have 13 MPs, and again they are all expected to vote in favour. That’s 94 votes. The third coalition party, the Greens, have 6 seats, but their decision is harder to predict.

In the past they’ve said they will only support the radar base after receiving a guarantee it will form part of a NATO system. But it’s not certain Mr Topolánek will be able to extract such a guarantee from the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. The Greens also want to hold an internal referendum on the issue; no-one can predict the outcome of such a vote.

Mr Topolánek may be able, however, to rely on two renegade MPs from the Social Democrats who have switched sides. A third Social Democrat MP Evzen Snitily, who was thrown out of the party after voting for Václav Klaus in the presidential election, can also be considered a “rebel”, but he is on record as saying he would vote against the radar base.

Mr Paroubek’s warning on Wednesday was presumably to try and prevent any further losses from his ranks. Some Social Democrat MPs who have been to see a similar radar installation on the U.S. Marshall Islands have said they might not vote against. But to recap the maths – Mr Topolánek will need all the MPs in coalition and at least one rebel to guarantee the treaty’s ratification.

Mr Topolánek has been quoted as saying the vote will be held sometime this summer. He also said he would cross that bridge when he comes to it. He’s certainly displaying a great deal of confidence, but looking at the division of forces in parliament, and looking at these complex equations, it’s hard for an observer to see what that confidence is based on.