Friday, June 09, 2006

The Czech election

Victory, of a sort

Jun 8th 2006 | PRAGUE
From The Economist print edition

Czech conservatives win the election, but not power

IT WAS the best result ever for a Czech political party. Yet the 35.4% they took in the election last weekend was still not enough to give the free-market, Eurosceptic Civic Democrats more than a sniff of power. For, after a bitter campaign, the outcome was, in effect, a tie. The Civic Democrats and their allies (the Christian Democrats and the Greens) took 100 of the 200 seats in the lower house of parliament. But between them the Social Democrats, led by the outgoing prime minister, Jiri Paroubek, and the Communists also took 100.


We're off to count the votes

The Communists' nostalgic view of one-party rule makes them political pariahs. But there is no obvious coalition that can be formed among the other parties. One idea is a “grand coalition” of Social and Civic Democrats. But both main leaders rule this out.

Mr Paroubek, whose party polled 32.3%, is fuming. He says his defeat was a “putsch” by the Civic Democrats and their allies in the security and intelligence services. On May 29th Jan Kubice, a top crime-fighter, told a parliamentary committee that mafia influence over the government threatened the state's “security, economic and financial stability”. He accused Mr Paroubek and two colleagues of obstructing an investigation into a contract killing.

Mr Paroubek denied this, and said later that the report had also wrongly accused him of child molestation. He wants a government of non-party experts. But the Civic Democrats' leader, Mirek Topolanek, is still hoping to cobble together a majority, perhaps by winning over some Social Democrats, or persuading the party not to oppose him outright. One deputy claimed this week that he had been offered a 5m koruna ($230,000) bribe to switch sides.

The new parliament will probably meet later this month, after which Mr Topolanek has 30 days to win a confidence vote. As it happens, President Vaclav Klaus is a Civic Democrat and arch-Eurosceptic, but he also dislikes Mr Topolanek. If three putative governments fail to win a confidence vote, Mr Klaus will dissolve parliament again.

Thus at least three months of bickering and instability are likely. That may jolt confidence in the Czech economy, which has been growing strongly. With the flat tax, privatisation and lean government promised by Mr Topolanek's party, the economy could do better still. But radical reform now looks unlikely. The only comfort for Czechs is that all other central European countries have wobbly governments too—and yet they are muddling along quite nicely.

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