Speculation surrounds fall of Prague’s grand coalition

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK

The grand coalition of Civic and Social Democrats at Prague City Hall is about to end, a year after it assumed power. In a surprise move, the Civic Democrats in the capital on Tuesday announced they were leaving the ruling bloc, justifying the step by budget and personal issues. However, the unconvincing explanation has given rise to wide-ranging speculation about the real reason behind the reshuffle.

Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK
The local elections in October last year saw the defeat of the Civic Democrats in Prague, for the first time since the fall of communism. But the party still managed to retain the post of mayor, thanks to a deal with the Social Democrats that left the winning TOP 09 party out in the cold.

In part, the Civic Democrats succeeded because they nominated a respected figure, Bohuslav Svoboda for the post, in an attempt to cut themselves off from the corrupt practices of the past.

But now, a year later, the Civic Democrats seem to have had a change of heart; they no longer consider the Social Democrats a viable coalition partner at Prague City Hall. Boris Štastný is the head of the party’s Prague branch.

Boris Šťastný
“In the long run, there have been discrepancies between the Civic and the Social Democrats in Prague; the coalition has not been fully functional and there have been serious misgivings between the two parties. The final straw was a debt trap which now threatens the capital because of the Social Democrats.”

However, none of the reasons presented by Mr Šťastný seem credible. It is true that the Social Democrats are probably more generous with the city finances, and one of their leaders in Prague faces trial over a clash of interests. But that’s nothing the Civic Democrats would not have known before, as political analyst Petr Just points out.

“We have to lean a little to those explanations, which arose overnight and this morning, that the main reason behind these changes is to strengthen the position of a Civic Democrat party wing which is against the current mayor.

“It’s a fact that Mayor Svoboda’s position has been attacked by members of his own party who see him as a threat to some of the public contracts that have been on the table since the previous city administrations.”

The Civic Democrats now want to negotiate a new coalition with election winner, TOP 09. But that would most likely be the end of Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, which might well be the ultimate objective of the move. When asked by reporters whether infighting within his own party was behind the decision to end the grand coalition, Mayor Svoboda had this to say.

Prague City Hall
“All I can say is that it is quite possible that the mayor is the one who’s in someone’s way. I can also say that it might be related to a huge city clean-up tender; the problem might be that I, or we, don’t agree with the tender in its current form.”

The coalition is to formally end within 30 days but all three parties represented in Prague City Council – the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and the Social Democrats – will immediately start talks to determine the city’s future government.