Traditional parties of right and left set to share power in major cities, despite some voters’ call for change

TOP 09's candidate for Prague mayor Zdeněk Tůma, photo: CTK

Three weeks after local elections, talks about forming governments in many Czech towns and cities are still underway. However, in some of the country’s largest cities, including Prague, grand coalitions of the traditional main right- and left-wing parties appear most likely to emerge. This comes despite many voters’ evident desire for change.

TOP 09's candidate for Prague mayor Zdeněk Tůma, photo: CTK
When Czechs cast their ballots in October’s local elections, many of them did so to remove old guards regarded as being too close to business interests. The most striking example is Prague. There the newly established party TOP 09 comprehensively beat their rivals on the right the Civic Democrats, who have ruled the capital since 1994, either alone or propped up by the leftist Social Democrats.

Negotiations over what coalition will control the city for the next four years have been dragging on. Sparks have flown occasionally, like earlier this week when TOP 09 accused the Civic Democrats of favouring a “power cartel” with the Social Democrats linked to business groups. TOP 09 say it would be more logical for the Civic Democrats to enter government with them – just like at national level.

Now President Václav Klaus has entered the debate, surprising some by evidently supporting right-left power shares.

“In Brno, Ostrava and Plzeň, they have formed one type of coalition, and I don’t see the world collapsing. But when they talk about forming such a coalition in Prague, it’s as if the heavens were splitting open.”

Civic Democrats' candidate for Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda
Some say the president is ignoring one important fact: unlike in the other cities in question, TOP 09 actually came first in Prague.

Political analyst Pert Jüptner says ideological considerations have never been important at local level; but voters might feel short-changed if they supported parties that promised change only to see the same old same old.

“There, voters can be disappointed but we have to look at each case separately. In Prague, it was obvious that the Civic Democrat old guard were very close to some of the key Social Democrat players. But it was also a mistake by TOP 09 to have rejected so briskly any closer negotiations with the Social Democrats. This further weakened the already weak position of Prague’s Social Democrat leader, Jiří Dienstbier Jr.”

Unlike President Klaus – and Prague representatives – the Civic Democrat national leadership is not keen on the idea of embracing their Social Democrat adversaries. After losing significant support in general elections in May, the Civic Democrats’ leader, Petr Nečas, promised to clear out some of the powerbrokers seen to have tainted the party’s reputation. According to analyst Petr Jüptner, this is easier said than done.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
“The Civic Democrat leadership does not have the strength to do it, and they cannot even interfere with what’s going on at local level because in right-wing parties it’s not customary to issue some binding directives.

“On the other hand, chairman Petr Nečas is surely not happy about these coalitions, particularly in Brno and Prague, if that kind of coalition is indeed formed there as well.”

After this week’s falling out between the two right-wing groupings, coalition talks in Prague are set to continue next week. However, most commentators believe that the deal has already been done behind the scenes, with the winner, TOP 09, set to get the short end of the stick.