Czech Republic’s Players To Watch
Bohuslav Sobotka: Although just 41 years old, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) chairman has extensive government experience, having served as both deputy prime minister and minister of finance. Sobotka is poised to become prime minister following a probable snap election that the Social Democrats are heavily favored to win. He has steadfastly supported the CSSD’s long-standing ban on establishing a formal coalition with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) at the national level, but has stated that he would be open to heading a minority government supported by the Communists if he is unable to strike a deal with centrist parties. Sobotka has stressed that the composition of a CSSD-led government will be based on the wishes of the electorate, suggesting that a strong showing by the KSCM would incline him toward seeking an arrangement with that party. Sobotka favors adoption of the euro, but does not see that happening until 2020, a timeline that suggests meeting the stringent criteria for membership in the monetary union will not be an immediate priority.
Milos Zeman: The president is a former chairman of the CSSD, and headed a minority government as prime minister in 1998–2002. He parted ways with the Social Democrats in 2007, but maintains a measure of influence with some elements within the CSSD. Zeman won the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election in January 2013, and insists that he his victory is a mandate to play an active role in political affairs. Following the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Necas in June 2013, Zeman rejected both the incumbent ODS’ nominee to replace Necas and the demands of the CSSD for a snap election, instead putting forward Jiri Rusnok as his own nominee to head a technocratic caretaker government until elections fall due in May 2014. Zeman’s actions have drawn sharp criticism from CSSD leader Sobotka, creating a high probability of tense relations between the two leaders in the likely event that Sobotka becomes prime minister. Indeed, it is a pretty safe bet that Zeman’s efforts to assert his self-proclaimed authority will create headaches for whoever is running the government.
Czech Social Democratic Party: Currently the main opposition party, the center-left CSSD has benefited greatly from the political troubles encountered by Necas’ failed center-right government, and recent polls indicate that the Social Democrats could win as much as 40% of the vote in an early election, compared to its 22.1% vote share in 2010. As the governing party during 1998–2006, the CSSD did much of the heavy lifting required to gain the country’s membership in the EU, and the party’s leaders favor entry into the euro zone at the earliest possible date. The erosion of the party’s electoral base that led to its defeat in 2010 has encouraged the adoption of a somewhat more populist posture, and CSSD leaders have pledged to roll back some of the ODS-led administration’s “unjust” reforms, including changes to the pension system and the restructuring of utilities. Party chairman Sobotka has pushed back against the populist tide, stressing the need to present a realistic program, but he will face strong pressure from within the party to move leftward that will be all the more difficult to withstand if his government relies on the backing of the KSCM for its majority.
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia: The KSCM retained its 26 seats at the May 2010 elections, but the losses sustained by the CSSD robbed the party of any chance of exerting influence over policy. Under rules adopted by the CSSD in 1995, the Social Democrats are forbidden from entering into an alliance with the KSCM. However, successive CSSD leaders have expressed openness to the idea of striking a deal whereby the KSCM would support a minority CSSD government from outside, similar to the arrangement the Social Democrats had with the ODS during 1998–2002. The KSCM’s emergence as a potential informal partner of the CSSD has granted the party a measure of legitimacy, as has the election of the party’s leader, Vojtěch Filip, as vice president of the Chamber of Deputies following the 2002 and 2006 elections. The party’s platform advocates re-regulating energy and housing prices, protecting domestic producers from foreign competition, ending the privatization program, and increasing state control over the banking sector. The KSCM has in the past denounced both NATO and EU membership, and while Filip is a pragmatist by inclination, the KSCM’s ability to determine the survival of a minority CSSD government would seriously complicate the country’s prospects for achieving the steady progress toward adopting the euro that is crucial to the country’s continued attractiveness to foreign investors.
Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09: A new conservative party formed in mid-2009, TOP 09 built its 2010 election campaign around a pledge to impose the harsh fiscal austerity measures required to insulate the country from any contagion triggered by the debt crisis in Greece. It gained a chance to make good on that promise following a surprising third-place finish that secured the party a spot in the ODS-led government, in which its founding leader, Miroslav Kalousek, held the Finance portfolio. In addition to advocating free-market economic policies, TOP 09 supports European integration, and the appointment of the party’s chairman, Karel Schwarzenberg, to the Foreign Affairs post provided it with a platform from which to push for that objective. Although TOP 09 has pushed for the formation of a new center-right administration following the collapse of Necas’ government, party leaders have indicated that they do not rule out an alliance with any party, and would be willing to form a government with the CSSD if other options proved to be unfeasible.
Civic Democratic Party: The center-right ODS finished second to the CSSD at the May 2010 elections, but the Social Democrats had no basis for forming a majority coalition except in partnership with the ODS. The strong showing of the conservative TOP 09 made it possible for ODS leader Petr Nečas to pull together a center-right coalition that included both TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV). The ODS’ program emphasized fiscal responsibility and liberal reforms, but its ability to implement its agenda was weakened by a split within the VV that reduced the government’s majority to just two seats. Popular support for the party had plummeted even before scandals forced Necas to resign in June 2012, and the ODS faces a bruising defeat at the next election that will likely limit its ability to influence policy making over the next several years.
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