Political analyst Jiří Pehe: the present crisis will strengthen democracy in the Czech Republic

Jan Fischer, photo: CTK

The recent weeks of political turmoil in the Czech Republic have left many questions unanswered – primarily what kind of government will rule the country until regular elections in the spring of next year. Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who heads a caretaker government which was meant to lead the country to early elections in October, has said he is waiting to hear from the country’s political leaders as to whether they want personnel changes, a government of technocrats, a political government or something in-between. He has also said he cannot continue to rule the country without a fresh mandate. Although relations between the two strongest parties – the right-wing Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats -are frosty it is they who will have to decide about the country’s immediate future. So what are the chances of them reaching agreement? Political analyst Jiří Pehe says they are considerable since cooperation between the two strongest parties is nothing new in Czech politics.

“We should not hide the fact that the Czech Republic already has a grand coalition. Everyone is talking about a government of experts but in fact what we have is a government that was created by the two largest parties and the fact that we have experts and non-politicians sitting in the government doesn’t change very much – we still have a grand-coalition government. So the two parties have something to work with. They have a government that is basically theirs. This government has the support of some 150 deputies in the lower house as long as these two parties continue to support it – so they have something to build on. As far as the budget is concerned they will simply have to find a compromise. I don’t think that in the end the deficit will be lower than 170 billion crowns but the two parties will have to find a compromise somewhere in between 170 and 230 billion so that they can both save face, so to speak."

You yourself have long argued the need to amend the constitution in such a way as to facilitate early elections – do you feel that the law as it was approved recently will benefit the country in the long–term despite the crisis it has caused?

Jan Fischer,  photo: CTK
"Well, it is my opinion – and in this I differ from many Czech analysts and commentators- that the current crisis will actually strengthen Czech democracy. For two reasons –one is that we now have a set of rules set by a precedent –that is the ruling of the Constitutional Court - so we have something to work with in the future. We know that politicians and political parties cannot be totally free in changing the constitution and manipulating the rules –that there is a playground they have to play on and that is really important for any democracy and in the long run, when the dust settles, everyone will see that this was actually beneficial in some ways. Second, I think that the fact that politicians hastily passed a constitutional amendment which provides a general framework for dissolving the chamber of deputies is a good thing because now we have –in addition to the three existing ways of dissolving Parliament and calling early elections which are very rigid and practically unusable – another way that is more flexible and may help resolve political and constitutional crises in the near future."

Having said that, this crisis has led to the fact that public trust in politicians has plummeted –will that not be a problem in the upcoming elections next spring?

Jiří Paroubek and Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
"Well yes, of course this current political elite is to a large extent discredited which would probably have been the case even without the current political crisis. I think we have a group of political leaders leading the Czech Republic right now who are not trustworthy, who are not seen by the public as people who are looking after the interests of the country and so on. Again this may be, in some ways, beneficial because we may now get a new generation of political leaders who are waiting for an opportunity, on the other hand there is of course the risk that the current weaknesses of the political elite and their unpopularity could bring to the fore populist leaders who might take over and gain ground –leaders of extremist parties and so on. So of course right now the Czech Republic is very vulnerable but I personally think that overall this crisis will have beneficial effects."