02/05/2006 - Analysis
On 2nd and 3rd of June next, just over a month after their hungarian neighbours and two weeks before the slovakians the czechs are called to vote to elect the 200 members of the chamber of representatives, the lower chamber in parliament. The choice of date of these elections has been the source of controversy since the president of the republic has obviously decided alone on their organisation whilst the date of the general election is traditionally decided jointly by the president of the republic and the prime minister. The latter, Jiri Paroubek (social democrat party, cssd) suggested the election be held on 9th and 10th June, dates believed inappropriate due to the world football cup that starts in Germany on 9th June.
The political system
There are two chambers to the parliament comprising the chamber of representatives and the senate. all parties must achieve a minimum of 5% of the votes cast in order to be represented there.
Five political parties are represented at present in the chamber of representatives:
- The social democrat party (CSSD), Jiri Paroubek, the prime minister's party, which lies to the left on the political scale has 70 seats;
- The civic democrat party (ODS), a liberal party founded by the president of the republic, Vaclav Klaus and led by Mirek Topolank has 58 mps;
- The communist party of bohemia and moravia (KSCM), the heir to the communist party of the socialist republic of Czechoslovakia and the last unreformed communist party in central europe, led by Vojtech Filip, has 41 seats;
- The christian democrat union/people's party (KDU-CSLcoalition led by the social democrat party since 2002, the KDU-CSL led by Miroslav Kalousek has 22 mps;
- The freedom union-democrat union (us-deu), close to the christian-democrat union-people's party with which it forms part of the parliamentary coalition. It is led by the justice minister, Pavel Nemec and has 9 seats.
The senate comprises 81 members elected for a six year period by uninominal majority vote in two rounds, renewable by thirds. The choice of this mode of election corresponds to the wishes of those who wrote the constitution and notably to those of the former president of the republic Vaclav Havel; this is designed to facilitate the election of independent individuals who are well established within the constituencies. The senate is still however an institution about which little is known and whose renewal motivates very few voters in general. The civic democrat party has 36 seats there in comparison with only 7 for the social democrat party. the christian democrat-people's party-freedom union-democrat union coalition has 16 seats.
26 political parties will put candidates forward in the general elections on 2nd and 3rd June next, i.e. three less than in the previous election in 2002 which comprised a record. eighteen parties will present candidates in each of the regions. The Czech republic had up 200 political parties at the start of the 1990's just after the velvet revolution of 1989. 5,010 candidates have registered for the election i.e. 1,508 less than for the general elections on 14th and 15th June 2002.
Czechs living abroad will be able to fulfil their civic duty in 106 countries and are invited to choose their representatives from the lists of southern bohemia in this election. Four years ago south moravia was appointed as the region to receive votes from residents abroad.
The electoral campaign of the two main parties
Since the start of the electoral campaign the two main parties in the political arena, the social democrat party and the civic democrat party have been competing with electoral promises without saying however how they will fund them.
"Security and prosperity", this is the banner of the social democrat party under which it launched its campaign for the general elections on 2nd and 3rd June. The ruling party's programme proposes a reform of the healthcare system according to the german model with greater citizen participation and a decrease of four points on company income tax (from 24% down to 20%). The social democrats are promising to triple the amount of family allowance as well as to increase the average salary (which the party intends to bring up to 26,500 crowns i.e. 932 euro by 2010) and retirement pensions (by 25% of their present amount). The increase in public investments, particularly in the construction of new motorways, as well as in the fight against corruption and unemployment, notably in the most affected areas such as moravia and north bohemia also occupy an important position in the ruling party's programme. The social democrat party intends to create 150,000 new jobs and is promising to reduce the unemployment level that lies at 7.7% at present, to below 6% of the working population. It is promising to bring investment in research and development up to 3% of the gdp. Finally on an institutional level the social democrats would like to bring in constitutional laws on the holding of referenda and modify the method of election of the president of the republic so that he/she is elected by direct universal suffrage as opposed to being elected by parliament at present.
53 year old Jiri Paroubek, prime minister since 25th April 2005, can be proud of positive economic results. The growth of the gdp lay at 6% in 2005, a rate which, in spite of its rapidity, has not led to inflation. The unemployment level is dropping, exports are increasing greatly: Whilst foreign trade displayed a deficit of 70 billion crowns just two years ago it registered surplus of 50 billion this year. Unfortunately national economic results do not yet seem to comprise a decisive detail in the votes to be cast on 2nd and 3rd June next.
The prime minister is therefore trying to frighten voters forecasting the advent of political and economic chaos if the civic democrat party came to power. "the policy of the civic democrat party will lead to the collapse of the welfare state", maintains Jiri Paroubek, "if they are elected society will function well for one or two years but long term our values will disappear and we shall witness a social catastrophe".
Whilst the government did not hesitate when necessary to call on communist support over the last four years, the social democrat party is now repeating that no alliance with the kscm is foreseeable. The cssd seems more interested in drawing closer to the green party, which is constantly rising in popularity in the polls and hence is being solicited by both of the main parties. "I should like to point out that the social democrats never planned or will never plan government co-operation with the communists. I can imagine the creation of a minority government with the support of the greens for example on environmental issues. The greens are the party closest to us", declared Jiri Paroubek at the end of march to the newspaper pravo. "The greens will however have to put forward their candidates for ministerial posts since the czechs do not want to be cheated and it is almost certain that the greens will enter parliament", said the prime minister.
The social democrat party had to face great disappointment with an unexpected decision on the part of 36 year old Martin Jahn, deputy prime minister and responsible for the economy, to leave government and give up all political activity. Appointed as head of the list of the ruling party in prague Martin Jahn, who has no specific political allegiance, decided to relinquish all political activity and join the private sector.
In replacement of Martin Jahn, Jiri Paroubek first called on Pavel Telicka, former deputy foreign minister, negotiator in the Czech republic's accession to the eu and former secretary of state for european affairs – a personality who belonged to no political party in particular. Pavel Telicka, who had not forgotten that the social democrat party wasted no time in sacrificing him to offer his post of european commissioner to the former prime minister (2002-2004), Vladimir Spidla, after his defeat in the european elections in June 2004 did however refuse Jiri Paroubek's offer.
In spite of the poor results produced by his party during the european elections in June 2004 – the social democrat party did not succeed in rising above the 10% mark of votes cast (8.78%) and only won two of the 80 seats that the country has – as well as in the senatorial and regional elections on 5th-6th and 12th-13th November 2004 (loss of eight seats in the senate and 15.5% of the vote in the regional election) – the prime minister continues to say he is confident of victory, "I am convinced that the social democrat party will win these elections. We shall win around 30-32% of the vote."
"The civic democrat party will do everything possible to be in a position to create a rightwing government. We shall establish a centre-right coalition excluding the social democrats and the communists," declared Mirek Topolanek, leader of the main opposition party on 11th march last. Although the civic democrat party is in the lead in the polls nearly 7 points ahead of the social democrat party, Mirek Topolanek has experienced some difficulties in asserting himself in the political arena. Hence according to a poll undertaken in April by sc&c for the daily mlada fronta dnes, one quarter of czechs say that Jiri Paroubek would make a good prime minister (25% versus 21% who say they support Mirek Topolanek). However the president of the republic Vaclav Klaus, founder and honorary president of the civic democrat party still enjoys great popular support three years after his election as head of state (28th February 2003). In April 2006, nearly three quarters of the czechs (73%) have confidence in him versus 44% who say they support Jiri Paroubek's government. Nearly five people in ten interviewed also say they are dissatisfied with the country's present political situation. Parliament is still quite unpopular in the Czech republic (30% of positive opinions for the chamber of representatives and 26% for the senate) but support for both the regional and local authorities, which are recent developments in this country is rising (50% and 62% respectively of those interviewed).
The civic democrat party programme proposes a decrease in taxation and the establishment of a single rate tax of 15% for vat, income and company tax. The liberals also hope to increase retirement pensions by 1000 crowns i.e. slightly more than 35 euro and to increase the fight against corruption. Ahead in all opinion polls for the last month the civic democrat party has to succeed in motivating its supporters in order achieve a victory that is wide enough to enable it to form a majority government.
The "small" parties, and the rise of the green party in the political arena.
However the true event in the electoral campaign is the rise and constant progress of the green party over the last few weeks in the political arena. "Suddenly the hope for change is emerging" writes political analyst bohumil dolezal. Created in December 1989 the green party, that has 1,200 members has experienced a blazing ascension over the past few months making it the most solicited movement on the part of the two main parties. Although the ecologists are rising in the polls, to the point where they lie in fourth position just a month before the election with 10% of the vote, the most difficult part remains however to be achieved, that is turning voting intentions into real votes. Some political analysts are wary, declaring that the ecologists hold is still weak ; Hence a large proportion of the electorate who say they are ready to vote in their favour might not turn out to vote on 2nd and 3rd June next.
Martin Bursik, who supports the ecologist's independence and opposed to his party's merger with other liberal parties was elected head of the green party in the autumn of 2005. He maintains that "an increasing share of the population is interested in the quality of life. we have a strong ideology. The greens are those who are concerned the most about human rights, minorities, women etc.. we find support in the european greens who are a guarantee of quality. We are the only ecologist party with a real opportunity to play a major political role amongst the new eu members and the only movement to be lacking in the Czech republic and for whom there is a real place in the political arena". The forty-six year old ecologist leader was a member of the christian democrat union for a while and briefly became environment minister in the government led by josef tosovsky from 1997-1998. During a tv debate which brought him face to face with prime minister Jiri Paroubek on 16th April Martin Bursik took a great step towards the left by declaring that he saw no reason why his party and the social democrat party should not co-operate together after the general elections. He maintained that with regard to the majority of what was at stake in society such as the environment or transport, the greens were closer to the positions adopted by the social democrats than those of the civic democrat party. In terms of economic choice however the greens feel that they are equally distance from the proposals put forward by both of the main parties. "The particular nature of the greens might greatly influence the partisan system where vote catching and corruption rule supreme. The czechs have recently experienced the most improbable electoral alliances. The influence of the greens on a partisan system which is at present paralysed can only be positive", stressed the political analyst jiri pehe.
In November last Miroslav Kalousek was re-elected head of the christian democrat union-people's party (KDU-CSL) for a four year mandate. "No communist influence on the government, no increase in taxes", these were the centrist party's electoral slogans which in spite of its participation in a government led by the social democrats for the last four years has drawn closer to the civic democrat party with which it might make an alliance after the election.
For its part the freedom union-democrat union (US-DEU), after having thought about joining forces with several extra-parliamentary forces such as the civic democrat alliance (ODA) or the association of independents-european democrats (SNK-ED) it finally decided to go it alone in these elections. "We shall no longer allow anyone to use us," declared the party's parliamentary group president, Ivo Lukvik. The party has also just changed name and is now called the new union for freedom (NUS). It presents itself as a party of protest that hopes to fight for freedom and against the existing order of things.
On 1st October 2005 Vojtech Filip, vice president of the chamber of representatives succeeded Miroslav Grebenicek as head of the communist party of bohemia and moravia. A supporter of a hard line in the face of his adversaries notably the social democrat party the latter led the communist party for twelve years and turned it into a movement that many thought was destined to disappear rapidly after the velvet revolution. It is now a party deemed acceptable and inevitable in the political arena. although a majority of czechs (52%) say they are still opposed to the communist presence in the government this figure continues to drop year after year. Vojtech Filip, who was elected by 63 votes versus 20 for his rival Vaclav Exner, is due to follow in his predecessor's footsteps. "I think there are still several examples of communist parties abroad which compromise with regard to their programme and which long term leads to their demise," he declared. "our rival is still the right, the civic democrat party. The communist party of bohemia and moravia can also consider the social democrat party as a competitor in the face of the electorate but not as a rival because our programmes are not that different", he insisted. The communist party of bohemia and moravia has in fact offered its support to the social democrat party for the formation of a future government. Because of this Miroslav Grebenicek accused Vojtech Filip of drawing too close to the social democrats and threatened to withdraw his candidature from the head of the party's list in south moravia. Vojtech Filip is trying to reassure the electorate by maintaining that a victory on the part of the communist party of bohemia and moravia in the general elections on 2nd and 3rd June next would not lead to a "bloody" class war or to the re-nationalisation of privatised companies. The party's programme comprises eight priorities including workers' security and the upkeep of the welfare state. The communists are also promising to increase salaries by 40% by 2010 and increase expenditure in research and development. The party has also promised to build 50,000 new apartments per year. Finally the communist party of bohemia and moravia is requesting the Czech republic's withdrawal from NATO.
On the extreme right of the political scale lie the republicans led by Miroslav Sladek who decided to merge with four other parties for these general elections and with whom they have created a new party called Narodni Strana, (National Front). Stopping immigration, the re-introduction of the death penalty and opposition to the eu are the main points put forward by the extreme right whose leader Miroslav Sladek is a fervent admirer of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
According to the polls only five parties appear able to win the necessary 5% of the vote in order to be represented in the chamber of representatives: the civic democrat party is due to win around 30% of the vote, the social democrat party around 23%, the communist party of bohemia and moravia 18%, the christian democrat union-people's party 12% and finally the greens 10%. 30% of the electorate still say they have not made their choice.
A poll undertaken by median and Ivan Gabal consultants and published by the press agency ctk announced that 40% of the czechs are expecting a victory on the part of the liberals versus 25% who foresee the social democrats remaining in power. more than two thirds of czechs (68%) maintain that they will vote on 2nd and 3rd June next.