Pundit: early elections may be the only viable option

Radek John y Vít Bárta, foto: ČTK

The fate of the Czech government hangs in the balance in the wake of a corruption scandal involving the junior coalition party Public Affairs. The prime minister’s intention to dismiss two Public Affairs ministers perceived as close allies of Transport Minister Vít Bárta who resigned on Friday amidst allegations of corruption, have raised the ire of the smallest party in government. Public Affairs has threatened to walk out unless its coalition partners sweep before their own doors first – triggering a broad cabinet reshuffle. The deadlock over who should stay and who should go has precipitated a crisis that could result in early elections. Radio Prague asked political analyst Jiří Pehe to assess the government’s chances of survival.

Radek John, Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
“I think that the Czech government is now damaged beyond repair. It is quite possible that the government will still be able to function in some ways, but I think it would be very difficult to reconstruct a governing coalition that would be able to function properly and adopt the necessary reforms. It is more likely that the government will simply fall apart and there are a number of scenarios which we may now face.”

What are they? Are we looking at early elections here?

“Of course, early elections are always the last option and everyone will try to avoid them because we had general elections last year, at the same time it may be the only viable option if the government falls apart and the two right-of-centre parties –the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 will not be able to gain a majority in the lower chamber. It is possible that at least one part of the Public Affairs party which is at the centre of the scandal will support the government and then of course the government could still function, however I think it will be really difficult for the government to go ahead with any significant reforms in this kind of situation.”

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
If it were to come to early elections – is the country – are voters prepared for early elections just a year after they were held?

“Well, I would say that Czechs are getting used to early elections. The political situation in the country is inherently unstable and I think the reason is that Czech politics is controlled to a large degree by business groups outside politics and therefore we have great potential for instability, no matter what. But I think that the public would probably welcome early elections simply because the level of public frustration is so high that holding early elections in the fall would definitely release some of the pressure that is now quite visible.”

But how serious would this be for the reforms that need to be approved and implemented?

Foto: Kristýna Maková/ Archiv ČRo 7 - Radio Praha
“I think that the reforms are now more or less on the back-burner anyway. Until – or unless the government resolves its current problems the reforms will have no legitimacy. I think that it would be difficult to introduce any reforms even if Prime Minister Nečas manages to get enough votes to push them through. If they are not able to secure a wider degree of support for the reforms from the public and the government is besieged by problems –then even if the reforms are approved by a one or two vote majority or maybe even more –they will have almost no legitimacy and the leftist opposition will have a good case in changing those reforms after the next elections and claiming that they were not preceded by a broad debate with the public and the opposition and that they were pushed through under circumstances which are politically highly unstable.”