Political scientist Jiří Pehe on motions from the center-right: We are seeing a struggle over who will lead the next government

Jiří Pehe

In recent days the two center-right election groupings on the Czech political scene have become increasingly vocal about their aim to bring down the minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The grouping Spolu (comprising the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP 09) wants to rally support for a vote of no-confidence in the government, while the Pirate Party and the Mayors and Independents would prefer to bring about a dissolution of the lower house and early elections. Neither has enough support for their goal – and with regular elections just six months away – why are they doing it? A question for political scientist Jiří Pehe.   

“It seems that at this point both coalitions are basically just trying to show voters that they are doing something with regard to the Babiš government, but in fact it is just posturing and they will not be able to deliver. Hopefully for them it will stop soon, because if they continue with these unproductive strategies they may lose voters.”

Why are they doing it? Why are they going through the motions when they know they cannot achieve their goal?

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Roman Vondrouš,  ČTK

“I think that they sense there is a lot of unhappiness in the public with the Babiš government –but in order to be able to get real results as regards a vote of no-confidence in the government or the dissolution of Parliament you need to do your math and in this case the numbers simply don’t add up. So I think they are just doing it to get voters to choose one of the coalitions over the other and, in that sense, it is a suicidal political strategy because it divides the two coalitions that have to work together if they want to defeat Mr. Babiš.”

Is this division of center-right groupings a good idea in the first place?

“Splitting the right-of-center opposition is not good.  They are visually split because they formed two different coalitions – one consists of former, older parties which played a role in the process of transformation i.e. the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and TOP 09, and the other consists of new parties – the Pirate Party and the Mayors and Independents. At the same time, although they have split into two groupings they have the same goal –getting rid of the government of Andrej Babiš. And although Mr. Babiš does not have coalition potential at this point, we do not know what the results of the elections will be –whether the Social Democrats, the Communists -or both -will get into the lower chamber, because if they do and Mr. Babiš does well, we may have the same situation that we have now.”

So now these two center-right groupings are fighting for voters. Will they be able to cooperate well in a coalition government –if they do well in the elections?

Markéta Pekarová Adamová,  Petr Fiala,  Marian Jurečka | Photo: Michal Krumphanzl,  ČTK

“I think they are now competing for voters because both Mr. Bartoš, the head of the Pirate Party, and Mr. Fiala, the head of the Civic Democrats, would like to be prime minister. So what we see now is partly caused by the struggle over who will lead the next government. But in a future government they will have to cooperate – depending on the electoral arithmetic, we do not know if they will have to cooperate as two coalitions, whether it will not be enough for one of the coalitions to pick one or two parties from the other coalition – but, that is all premature. At this point they should just work together to make sure they have enough votes after the elections and enough seats in the lower house to do the things they want to do –which may include taking president Zeman to task for some of the things he has done during his tenure.”

Would you say that the days of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his ANO party are numbered?

“I would like to say that the prime minister’s days are numbered, because his government has not done well in the Covid crisis and there are a lot of other issues, but at the same time nothing is decided. Mr. Babiš has played his cards quite well in the current crisis with Russia, he has positioned himself as someone who – unlike the president – is pro-Western and tough on Russia and that may bring him some votes from liberal voters who –particularly if they see the two center-right coalitions fighting each other – may decide to vote for Mr. Babiš in the end.”