From The Economist print edition
Does the Czech Republic really need a government?
POLAND'S government is proving eccentric and incompetent; Slovakia's sleazy and thuggish; Hungary's spendthrift and spineless. Against that depressing background, the failure of the Czechs to find any workable government, three months after their parliamentary election in June, may not be so bad.
The election was a tie. The most obvious coalition government, of conservatives, Christian Democrats and Greens, had 100 seats, with the same number going to the Social Democrats, led by the outgoing prime minister, Jiri Paroubek, and the pariah Communists.
The squabbling that followed has now produced a government that has taken office only to lose it. The conservative Civic Democrats (the clear victors by votes) are in power only until a confidence vote on October 4th, which they will almost certainly lose. Their leader, Mirek Topolanek, will continue as caretaker prime minister, at least until local and Senate elections later that month.
Mr Paroubek expects that his leftists will then have another shot at forming a government—perhaps a grand coalition in which the Civic Democrats would ditch Mr Topolanek. For his part, Mr Topolanek hopes that the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, may call another election next spring. Weary Czech voters might then vote more decisively. But Mr Klaus, who dislikes Mr Topolanek, may prefer to give the Civic Democrats a second go under another leader.
So months of instability loom. Does it matter? Luckily for the Czechs, the economy is doing well, growing at an annual rate of 7.4% in the first quarter. The currency, the koruna, has barely wobbled. The new government, a mixture of Civic Democrats and non-party figures, can still do a bit to demonstrate its grit and integrity by picking better civil servants and pushing through minor reforms that do not require new legislation. “Armstrong was on the moon only a few hours, yet still left a mark,” says Mr Topolanek.
That may be too sanguine. The outgoing government left a budget deficit of 88 billion koruna ($4 billion), or 3.8% of GDP, for 2007, and probably more if counted properly. The hope of joining the euro in 2010 is receding over the horizon (as for many other central European countries). Pension reform is stalled, as is reform of the universities. Czechs have done well in recent years from cheap labour and foreign investment. With a good government that modernised the state administration, simplified taxes and stimulated competitiveness, they could do even better.