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Czech Republic suffers from political schizophrenia

The Chamber of Deputies last week rejected the minority Social Democratic government's report on its activities during its first year in office. At the same time, Parliament's lower chamber passed a resolution stating, in essence, that the government is harming the country. The resolution was supported by the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), the Freedom Union (US), and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). A proposal by the KDU-CSL and the US calling on the government to step down, was, however, rejected by the ODS.

ODS leaders argued that, despite the government's bad performance, there is no alternative to the current government which was established under the so-called opposition agreement between the ODS and the Social Democrats (CSSD). The ODS received important state posts in return for allowing the CSSD to form a minority government. At the same time, the ODS promised to refrain from any attempts to initiate a vote of confidence in the government and oppose any such initiatives by other parties as long as the agreement is in force.

Billed as a "stabilization pact", the agreement has in fact contributed to the current economic and political paralysis in the Czech Republic. The CSSD government has been able to govern without any fear of being voted out of office. On the executive level, the government has been able to move forward with some important projects, such as the privatization of major state-controlled banks or offering packages of incentives to foreign investors. In the parliament, the ODS, however, has played the role of an opposition party, making it difficult for the government to push important laws through the parliament.

At the same time, the ODS has cooperated with the CSSD on preparing constitutional amendments and important electoral law changes, both of which are to increase the power of big parties and reduce the influence of small parties. Quite clearly, in some areas the CSSD and the ODS have behaved like coalition partners while in other areas the ODS has preferred to be seen as an opposition party.

This political schizophrenia was apparent during the last week's vote on the government's performance. President Vaclav Havel said he did not understand how a party can say the government is harming the country but, at the same time, refuse to recall such a government. He argued that this kind of ambivalence is not good for democracy and contributes to the overall paralysis of the political and economic life.

There are two major issues that need to be considered in connection with the parliament's resolution. First, it is questionable whether the government deserved the treatment it received from the opposition parties. The government has not been able to achieve some of its goals, but it performs fairly well in comparison with the last Klaus government (1996-1997). The fact the government cannot pass laws through the parliament can be blamed on both the government and the opposition parties.

In supporting the resolution, the ODS and the other two right-of-center parties seem to have played a political game, rather than seriously responding to the prime minister's account of the government's activities. If that is the case, the ODS, which keeps the government alive, can be accused of engaging ever more extensively in populist policies.

Second, if the government is indeed as bad as the ODS says, it should be the ODS's political duty to come up with alternatives. The party claims that it cannot bring the government down because no coalition government that could replace it is currently possible. Political analysts are, however, asking whether it would not be more honest for the ODS to offer the CSSD a full-fledged coalition. Alternatively, if no coalition is possible, would it not be better to hold early elections that could open a way toward creating a government that would be better than the current government that allegedly "hurts the country?".

Reuters - 7. 7. 1999