Who stands where on early elections?
On Monday, more than three months after the general elections in June, President Vaclav Klaus appointed a new Civic Democratic minority cabinet led by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. However, even before its appointment commentary from all sides of the political spectrum indicated that no one expects this government to survive long—perhaps only for 30 days if the initial vote of confidence, expected to be held on October 4, fails. The Civic Democrats are themselves saying that their intention is to bring the country to early elections. In this week's Talking Point, we look at the issue of early elections, what they mean for the various political parties, who supports them and who is opposed.
The Czech constitution outlines various ways that the country could hold early elections, and political analyst Jiri Pehe explains how early elections are most likely to come about:
"To get to early elections in the Czech Republic is extremely difficult. The constitution is basically quite rigid on this point and I'm afraid that if we are to have early elections we would have to go through all three unsuccessful consecutive attempts to form governments. It is not very likely that we will see the solution that we saw in 1998, when political parties agreed to shorten the tenure of the parliament and call early elections with the help of a special constitutional amendment. That would require the cooperation of the Social Democratic Party and the Social Democrats are not ready to support any such solution. And also, I think they are not ready to support any other solution that would move the country to early elections."
Bohuslav Sobotka, deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party, confirms this position:
As they did during the post-election negotiating process, the Social Democratic Party still maintains that early elections would be possible in the autumn of 2008, to be held jointly with the scheduled regional elections. This would significantly reduce campaign costs, which would otherwise run up to the one billion crown range (over $45 million US) if general elections were to be held independently. Though there are other reasons that the Social Democratic Party is opposed to the notion of early elections in 2007. Jiri Pehe explains:
Could you speculate as to whether or not that disadvantage is closely associated with the figure of Jiri Paroubek, or is it some larger phenomenon?
"I think that at this point it is partly Jiri Paroubek, who is seen by parts of the public as someone who blocked any productive post-election solution. Opinion polls show that he is blamed for the failure of post-election talks more than Mr. Topolanek. He is also still being blamed by many people for making a rather inflammatory speech on the second day of elections when he compared the Civic Democrats to the Communist Party in 1948, and he may want to wait for the public to forget some of these things. At the same time I think that he may want to see what kind of developments take place in the two smaller parties because Mr. Paroubek and the Social Democrats do not need to win in early elections—if we do have early elections. They need to have a majority with the Communist Party and in case one of the two small parties—that is the Greens and the Christian Democrats—will not make it to parliament this time, then the Social Democrats and the Communists are almost certain to have a majority."
Where the small parties in the lower house are concerned, on Monday the Christian Democrats made an about-face and changed their position regarding early elections; previously unsupportive, the Christian Democrats now say that they will support early elections as a way out of the political stalemate. Early elections are also strongly advocated by the Green Party—a first-timer in the lower house, with a mandate of 6 seats. Deputy leader of the Greens, Petr Stepanek, explains his party's outlook:
"We see the failure of the major parties to deal with the mandates from the public, and at the moment we don't see another solution than to form a temporary government and call new elections early next year."
"First of all, the constitution is not a piece of paper to be used one day and thrown away on another. We feel very strongly that the President and the representation elected in the elections should really adhere to the constitution and go through the attempts. We have a very good example from Slovakia eight years ago when [Vladimir] Meciar won elections and as undemocratic as he was, the President asked him first to form a government. After he failed, Dzurinda's cabinet went through and ruled for eight years. I think it was a very good example of the President not liking who got elected, yet he followed the constitution and it should be the case here too."
Jiri Pehe comments on what President Klaus is likely to do if Mr. Topolanek's minority Civic Democratic government fails to win a vote of confidence:
While the two large parties—the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats—currently hold diametrically opposing views on the question of early elections, the risk for small parties is surely bigger. Yet as it stands, both the Christian Democrats and the Greens are putting on a brave face.