Would-be coalition make unexpected offer to adopt opponents' key policies

Mirek Topolanek (left), Martin Bursik and Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK

Negotiations on the formation of a new Czech government have been going on now for more than seven, very long weeks, with no apparent end in sight. But the protracted horse-trading took an unexpected turn on Tuesday, when the would-be coalition of the Civic Democrats (ODS), the Christian Democrats and the Greens - still one seat short of a majority - made an unexpected move. They offered to adopt the ten key policies from the election manifesto of the left-wing Social Democrats, in exchange for support. The Social Democrats quickly pooh-poohed the idea, but it still leaves the question: why? I discussed it with political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova.

Mirek Topolanek  (left),  Martin Bursik and Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
"It was really a surprise and it was really very strange to do that - to accept the basic points of the electoral programme of the opposition. I think the coalition members wanted to show they are capable of very strong compromise, and this was mainly a message to voters, we are responsible, we are trying to accept the maxium of the demands of the Social Democratic Party.

"So it was mostly a message for the voters. I think the Social Democrats were extremely surprised - what to do with that? But it was quite clear that they cannot accept that, because although it's their programme, it's a very simplified programme, and it's not said there what would be the methods, or how to achieve the goals that are in the electoral programme of the Social Democrats.

"For instance supporting the universities was part of the programme of the Social Democrats. They said, we accept this point, but there wasn't a single word about whether there would be university fees or not - that's very important for the Social Democrats [who are opposed to fees]."

But isn't there a danger that the voters might also think that the three-party coalition simply has no principles, or no policies of their own, and they're willing to do anything to be in power?

"This can be a negative message for voters but I think most voters...those who are interested in politics and watching what's happening - there are not so many people doing that, in fact, people are a little bit tired after these negotiations and after a lot of changes in the positions of both sides...

Senior Social Democrats,  photo: CTK
I think mostly people said it was a strategic decision to do that and to put pressure on the Social Democrats to accept some compromises, or to accept the coalition."

It's all very complicated, but if you were a betting woman who would you bet will be in government in three months time? Or will we have early elections?

"(laughs) I think there are other options. In my opinion as a political scientist the best option would be a minority government of the ODS with some support of the Social Democrats. Because a minority coalition has no real rationale, because you need to find compromise inside the coalition and then you need to negotiate with other groups.

"So I think other options will be discussed. There is the possibility - which I would not like - of a grand coalition, using the German example, but this I would expect to be very negatively accepted by the voters.

"There is the possibility of some caretaker cabinet - a cabinet of experts - in the condition that there will be pre-term elections. Another case is that maybe there could be some support from the Communists, but this is also not very probable, that the Communists would give support for a minority cabinet."