STEM's Jan Hartl - grand coalition might be only option after elections

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2006 is a crucial year for the Czech Republic. In June the country's voters go to the polls for an election which will decide whether the Social Democrats (CSSD) - who have dominated government for the last eight years - will continue to call the shots. Opinion polls have shown the right-of-centre Civic Democrats (ODS) ahead of the Social Democrats, but even if they win the elections they might not be able to form a majority coalition. One man with his finger on the country's pulse is Jan Hartl, director of the private polling agency STEM.

"If we had to define the status of public opinion in the Czech Republic now, we would say that people are relatively positive, relatively satisfied. Many of them express dissatisfaction but if you study people's attitudes more deeply, you realise by majority they are satisfied. The problem for the forthcoming election is that the intensity of people's alignment to political parties is decreasing - it means the intensity is less and less."

Which makes your job more difficult I suppose.

"Which makes my job more difficult and makes the political situation hard to predict. The distance between the so-called right-wing and left-wing parties, which has been quite wide, is diminishing. People feel that all the political parties are the same, and their intention to vote is not very deep. It's a big question what the turnout will be in the elections."

So obviously a very inexact science and perhaps even some guesswork involved there, but based on these trends, what kind of government do you think we're going to get after June? Will it be a minority Social Democrat government? Will it be a grand coalition? Will the Communists be invited into government?

"I think we can exclude the possibility that the Communists will come back as a major political force. There are only a few possibilities. There's a possibility that the Civic Democrats will be able to create a majority with the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). This is not a very strong possibility. Another is that the Social Democrats might create a left bloc with either the direct or indirect support of the Communists. And obviously there's the prospect of a grand coalition of the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats. A likely scenario, according to the present surveys, is that the Civic Democrats will win the elections but not with a very large margin, and it might be difficult to create any government with the exception of a grand coalition."