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Christian democratic congress: no surprises

The congress of the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), held on 29-30 May, failed to break the political stalemate in the Czech Republic. The election of Jan Kasal as KDU-CSL Chairman means that the party is unlikely to join efforts to form a majority government led by either of the two largest parliamentary parties--the Social Democrats (CSSD) or the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). In fact, following his election, Kasal suggested that he would like the KDU-CSL to form a strong opposition block with the liberal Union of Freedom (US).

Such a strategy may in the long run be good for the KDU-CSL but is not likely to help the Czech Republic overcome its current problems. Analysts agree that the country needs a majority government. Apart from a grand coalition between the ODS and the CSSD, no majority government can be formed without the KDU-CSL’s participation.

Cyril Svoboda, Kasal’s contender for the post of the party chairman, strongly advocated a majority coalition government consisting of the CSSD, the US, and the KDU-CSL. Although the US has so far staunchly refused cooperating with the socialists in the same government, Svoboda promised to start negotiating with both the CSSD and the US. He is strongly opposed to forming a right-of-center coalition with the ODS and the US. He and other KDU-CSL leaders, including former party chairman Josef Lux, argue that cooperating with the ODS is not possible as long as the ODS does not critically analyze reasons for which the ODS-led government, in which the KDU-CSL participated, collapsed in 1997. Some KDU-CSL leaders also openly admit they do not want to work under ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus again.

Kasal is the only KDU-CSL leader who is not entirely opposed to cooperating with Klaus’s ODS. He was not a member of either of the two cabinets led by Klaus between 1992 and 1997. However, any effort by Kasal to negotiate with Klaus about a right-of-center coalition, led by the ODS, would probably be thwarted by other KDU-CSL leaders.

Kasal has a long experience with working within the structures of his party. Unlike Svoboda, who is a relative newcomer, he has a strong base among typical KDU-CSL voters in Southern Moravia and Eastern Bohemia. Those are mainly less educated Catholics residing in villages and small towns. Svoboda comes from Prague, where support for the KDU-CSL has traditionally been weak.

Had Svoboda been elected to the post of KDU-CSL Chairman, the image of the party would have significantly changed. Svoboda could have attracted voters from urban areas. Unlike Kasal, who has held various posts in the parliament, Svoboda in the past worked in the executive. He was the Czech Republic’s chief negotiator with the European Union and the minister of internal affairs in the Josef Tosovsky government in first half of 1998.

In failing to elect Svoboda, the KDU-CSL missed an important chance; namely, it could have become the first major Czech party that would be led by a politician who is not the intimately tied with both the successes and the failures of the first few years of post-communist transformation. In other words, Svoboda belongs to a new generation of politicians, who are still waiting for their chance to take over from leaders who have been active in Czech politics since the fall of communism.

By electing Kasal, the KDU-CSL opted for the status quo. That would not be a major problem if the Czech Republic was not facing serious problems. Some of those problems have been caused by the fact that leaders of the democratic parliamentary parties have consistently put their personal interests and the interests of their parties above the interests of the state. Personal animosities among political leaders have greatly contributed to the political stalemate that started in 1996 and still lasts.

Svoboda and young leaders in other parties would probably be able to find a common language. The Tosovsky government consisted mainly of young politicians, whose were not burdened by the legacy of mutual personal and ideological recriminations. The government worked well, showing leadership in a difficult political situation. Currently the Czech Republic does not have such a government. The election of Kasal increases chances that the political crisis in the country will last until at least the next parliamentary elections.

Reuters - 2. 6. 1999