You are here: Home Články / Articles 1997 Does the Czech government coalition still exist?

Does the Czech government coalition still exist?

The ruling coalition is increasingly disjointed. Each of the three coalition parties is pursuing its own objectives in some areas, finding it difficult to agree on a common coalition line. If the dynamics of intra-coalition relations do not change, the coalition may eventually self-destruct.

There are several reasons for such developments. Between 1992-1996 the coalition was dominated by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus´ Civic Democratic Party (ODS). The ODS had a majority of seats in the government, occasionally using its majority to overrule its junior coalition partners on important issues. Both the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) resisted the ODS dominance, but short of leaving the coalition they did not have enough leverages to change the ODS attitudes.

The elections in June 1996 changed the division of power within the coalition. Not only did the coalition lose its parliamentary majority but the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) became the second largest party. Both junior coalition parties thus became much more important for the ODS, once Klaus accepted to form a minority government. Under pressure, the ODS accepted having the same number of ministerial seats in the government as the two junior parties together. The importance of the junior parties grew even more after the Senate elections in the fall, in which both fared much better than had been initially expected.

The changed balance of power within the coalition, and on the Czech political scene in general, made the programs, ideas, and actions of each coalition party more important. It became gradually apparent that the program of KDU-CSL , in particular, differs significantly from those of the two civic parties.

As the overall economic and political situation worsened at the beginning of 1997, individual coalition parties faced a difficult dilemma: they needed to maintain a united front in order to be able to push through measures designed to improve the situation but, at the same time, with the possibility of early elections increasing, they needed to distance themselves from each other (and the coalition). A rather schizophrenic behavior on part of each party has resulted from trying to cope with this dilemma.

As coalition politicians freely admit that early elections are probably unavoidable, every issue represents an opportunity to show what individual parties stand for. Common coalition interests are becoming secondary. However, a dividing line exists in the coalition even in the way in which the coalition parties approach the possibility of early elections.

While the two civic parties realize that they will probably not be represented in a next government (as the CSSD clearly leads in opinion polls), the KDU-CSL can be certain of being represented in any next government: neither the CSSD nor the civic parties can form a government without it. The civic parties, therefore, need to be more careful than the KDU-CSL about sacrificing the current government prematurely and about giving precedence to their own tactical interests over the interests of the coalition.

KDU-CSL chairman Josef Lux has been well aware of the party´s special position. He has repeatedly clashed with the civic parties´ chairmen over various issues. In the end , the KDU-CSL has so far always supported the coalition, but it is clear that maintaining such a schizophrenic attitude is becoming not only difficult but could eventually damage the party´s image in the eyes of the public.

For example, the KDU-CSL has objected the two civic parties´ attempts to reduce too much social and welfare payments but in the end voted for the "coalition" proposal. Lux has vigorously objected to the way in which the Investicni and Postovni Bank (IPB) has been privatized but in the end supported the government line. Unlike the two civic parties, the KDU-CSL is currently in favor of raising taxes, to deal with damages caused by recent floods. It is also less opposed to running a deficit budget than its two coalition partners. Whether Lux will in the end again make concessions to its coalition partners, or whether it will be the other way around, remains to be seen. A disagreement on the budget would most likely result in the collapse of the government.

On another level, each coalition party is engaged in a conflict of its own with another coalition party. The recent conflict over the sale of Czech tanks to Algeria, for example, is mainly that between the KDU-CSL and the ODA. During the June political crisis, Lux called on Klaus to step down. He still maintains that the Czech Republic now finds itself in a post-Klaus era and recently repeated his opinion that Klaus should have stepped down. ODS leaders, on the other, have repeatedly criticized Lux for being "unprincipled."

It seems that the question about the future of the Czech coalition government is no longer whether it will survive until the end of its regular term but rather when it will collapse. Such a development may not necessarily be bad. Clearly, much of the current political malaise in the country has been caused not only by the political stalemate produced by the last year´s elections but also by bad communication within the coalition. Early elections could help solve such problems.

Prague Business Journal, Reuters - 15. 9. 1997