President criticises politicians' inability to resolve continuing stalemate

President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

It has long been custom in the Czech Republic for viewers to tune in on January 1st to watch the president's New Year's address and this year's speech was followed closely. After months of political deadlock following inconclusive elections in June, it was hardly surprising politics topped the president's list.

President Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
January 1st, 2007, shortly after 1 pm: President Vaclav Klaus addresses the nation in his New Year's address, the most dominant topic: ongoing political stalemate. After seven months and two attempts - the second still ongoing - the Czech Republic is still without a viable government, and on Monday in cool and measured tones Mr Klaus criticised the political elite for fa iling to find greater consensus, broader compromise, in the face of serious circumstances. Journalist Erik Best:

"I think he is probably still trying to salvage a 'grand coalition' and I think that his speech was an effort, although not a very blatant one in this respect, because he did say what was needed was a stable government but also a greater consensus. The nature of the current proposed government, one based only on votes of the so-called right-wing parties and perhaps a couple from the Left is, in his view, an inherently instable government. "

In that way Mr Klaus' words could be interpreted as indirect criticism of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose proposed cabinet has not sought broader political backing, namely from the Social Democrats. In the president's view, the stalemate has also had a deeper impact: in his speech he coined a new emotionally-charged phrase "civil cold war", to describe what he sees as a potential threat of division in the country. His words were later criticised by some, including Green Party leader Martin Bursik as "unnecessarily strong". Earlier, I spoke with political analyst Petr Just:

"I would agree with Mr Bursik's criticism of the term 'cold war' just because the major parties are not able to form a stable coalition, that there are two blocs and no one wants to make a step back. But, I don't think the population follows this equal division between the Right and Left. If there is any conflict between two 'actors', then it is a conflict between voters as a whole and politicians, because voters see that they are unable to from a coalition based on who they voted for.

The population generally - even before the elections - has been quite critical of politics, political parties, political institutions. [The whole affair] is actually just confirmation of what the public actually thinks about politics in general."

Mr Klaus' New Year's address of course did more than cover just the country's ongoing government crisis: he also spoke about other long-term topics: the future of the European Union's constitution, Romania and Bulgaria's accession, and the role of the EU in the lives of its citizens. In the end, though, there's no doubt this year's speech will be remembered most for its look back at a seven-month-long stalemate: one that the president, like most Czech citizens, thinks should have been resolved by now.