Prague mayor wins in-party showdown to form new coalition

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK

A dramatic week at Prague City Hall seems to be drawing to a close and the Czech capital will be under new management. The city’s grand coalition of the rival Civic and Social Democrats ended abruptly on Monday night, and on Thursday morning a new ruling coalition was announced just as swiftly. The TOP 09 party, which actually won the election to City Hall last fall but has been in opposition ever since, will now have a majority on the council, while the Civic Democrats and Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda will keep the top position. Likely no one was more surprised at the outcome of this situation than the chairman of the Civic Democratic Party’s Prague chapter, Boris Šťastný – the man who caused the breakup of the original coalition and who was sidestepped on the decision, which Mayor Svoboda and his supporters arranged with TOP 09 on their own. While political commentators have themselves been struggling to keep up with events at City Hall this week, Jiří Pehe of New York University told us how he interprets the situation.

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK
“Well I think what we are seeing in Prague at the moment is a split within Civic Democratic Party, that has created two groups, one controlled by Boris Šťastný, the head of the regional organisation, and the other controlled by Mayor Svoboda. Although, I think, the original plan was to destroy the coalition between the Civic Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party and at the same time recall the mayor, in the end it seems that the mayor and his group have enough votes to create a coalition on their own with TOP 09 or the Social Democrats.”

It’s a kind of coup d’état within the party it seems, with Mayor Svoboda emerging as the winner. What happens now to the opposing part of the party?

“I think it will only deepen the split within the party, but at the same time it is also a battle between the Civic Democrat politicians in Prague who are not closely tied to certain business interests and groups, and on the other side Mr Šťastný’s group, which I think is working very closely with business interests behind the scenes. This whole development also may be a struggle to clean up the Civic Democratic Party in Prague. Of course we have to wait and see, but it seems to me that Mr Šťastný may have overplayed his hand, and that the group of people who are not so interested in working with various non-transparent groups behind the scenes anymore may have the upper hand.”

Boris Šťastný, photo: CTK
Cleaning up has been the main theme for TOP 09, which has been in the opposition until now, and they are very happy with this you come. They’ve said they are not interested in the post of mayor as much as getting certain faces out of city hall. Do you think this could actually represent a change in that direction?

“I think it may represent a change in Prague. We should remember that it was TOP 09 that won the elections in Prague, and the coalition between ODS (the Civic Democratic Party) and the Social Democrats was a slap in the face of the Prague electorate. Quite clearly this coalition was created only for the sake of behind-the-scenes interests of certain economic pressures. Now it seems that these pressures will be less significant, and – if we’re lucky and one never knows in the Czech Republic – we could see less corruption in Prague.”