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Will Czech Republic be politically stable?

The political instability that the Czech Republic has experienced since the elections in June 1996 is not likely to go away soon. Either of the two principal outcomes of the current situation--the fall of the government or the continuation of the current government--has its pitfalls.

Should the government fall for any reason, the constitution gives the president two consecutive attempts to name a new prime minister. Should both such prime ministers-designate be unable to put together workable governments--either bacause they would not get enough support from Czech political parties or because the parliament would not approve a new government's program--the president has to name a prime minister at the suggestion of the chairman of the lower chamber of the parliament. Should even the third attempt to form a government fail, the president has to dissolve the parliament and call early elections. Alternatively, the lower chamber of the parliament--should it come to the conclusion that a new government cannot be formed--could vote to dissolve itself and call early elections. Such a move would, however, have to be also approved by the Senate.

Clearly, both options are cumbersome and time consuming. Should the president go through the entire process of naming three prime ministers-designate, before being able to dissolve the parliament, almost half a year would elapse, unless political parties agreed to accelerate the process. The option under which the parliament would dissolve itself is not very likely. And even if it were used, calling and preparing new elections would take several months. This means that should the Czech Republic hold early elections, as demanded by the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD), the unstable political situation would last for months. Under the scenario preferred by the CSSD, the elections should take place in November next year.

Another possibility is that a new government could be formed without calling early election--although it is very unlikely that Czech political parties could agree on a workabe formula. But even if they should succeed, any new government would most likely be as unstable as the current one. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has made clear that it would not support a government headed by anyone else but Klaus. Even if it were to be persuaded to nominate another ODS leader as prime minister or to support a politician from one of the two junior coalition parties, such a government would most likely continue to experince the same problems the current one has faced. First, the coalition has only 100 seats in the 200-member lower chamber. Second, conflicts between the three coalition parties are not likely to disappear entirely even with a new prime minister.

A coalition government formed by the CSSD and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), who are in the current coalition government, would be a minority one. It would have to rely on the tacit support of the Communists, an option that would make such a government inherently unstable. The most stable option would be a grand coalition between the ODS and the CSSD. However, the CSSD has flatly refused such an option. And some ODS leaders freely admit that such a coalition could work only if Klaus and CSSD chairman Zeman were no longer leading their parties.

Should the current government survive until the next regular elections in the year 2,000, it will continue to be unstable. First, the coalition parties are not likely to resolve fully their differences. They may agree on a new government manifesto, or at least, a more united approach to various issues, at their coalition conference, planned for 6 January. However, the KDU-CSL has distanced itsef from the ideas of political and economic liberalism advocated by the two civic parties. This basic programmatic gap will continue to cuase problems. More important, KDU-CSL chairman Josef Lux has publicly stated that Klaus should go. Even if proclamations of a newly-found unity should emerge from the 6 January meeting, such a unity may not last long.

Clearly, the political situation in the Czech Republic will continue to be unstable in the foreseeable future. Such an instability should not, however, be confused with the instability of the whole democratic system. In fact, democratic institutions and mechanisms in the country have worked relatively well, despite all the political tremors the country has experienced since the elections in 1996.

On the other hand, should even early elections be unable to break the political deadlock that is causing political intability, Czech politicians may start thinking about constitutional changes that would reduce political instablity in the future. Suggestions have appeared in the media that one way out, for example, may be changing the system of proportional representation, that is currently used in the general elections, into a majoriry system. Such a system would eliminate the presence of extremist parties in the parliament and ultimately would most likely result in a two-party or, at best, three-party system.

Reuters - 19. 11. 1997