>’A man who is lucky’: Czech minority right-wing government to survive after all

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Contrary to many expectations (mine included) Czech PM designate and Civic Democrat leader Miroslav Topolánek has pulled it off and done a deal with two maverick Social Democrat deputies, who left their party’s parliamentary faction last year. The pair will not support his Green/Christian Democrat/Civic Democrat coalition, but will ‘tolerate’ it by not voting against it in a vote of confidence. This should produce a 100-98 vote in favour, assuming the coalition deputies all hold to the deal (likely), despite rumblings of discontent about the bad deal Topolánek negotiated with the two junior coalition parties and the ruffled feathers of numerous big cheeses in ODS – Jan Zahradil and Finance spokesman Vlastimil Tlustý (not included in the cabinet), for example. The vote of confidence yet to take place as President Klaus – who opposed such a deal in favour of Grand Coalition with workable majority – has yet to formally appoint the government may yet try to throw a spanner in the works.

In exchange, the ‘constructive’ ex-Social Democrats do get something: a formal declaration specifying some policy concessions (the most concrete a promise to legislate for non-profit hospitals – a bulwark against privatization – and some vaguer promises about tax reform not raising the burden on any group and retaining the principle of targetted social benefits) and…. well, who knows? The Social Democrats are understandably outraged as the two ‘deserters’ or ‘defectors’, depending on your translation (přeběhlíci) – or, indeed as the right calls them ‘constructive deputies’ – were elected on a party list, rather than for individual merit and are crying corruption. There must indeed be some suspicion that the two have been personally bought off.

There have been persistent, if unproven, allegations that the Civic Democrats under Topolánek have tried to induce individual deputies in other parties to defect – the case of Freedom Union deputy Zdeněk Kořistka, whom a Topolánek aide allegedly tried to bribe with (I think) 10 million crowns in 2005 and alleged approaches to Social Democrat deputy (and ex-ski jump champion) Pavel Ploc after last year’s elections come to mind. The Kořistka case was inconclusively investigated by the police – surveillance tapes from the investigation were mysteriously leaked during last year’s election campaign. On the other hand, the Social Democrats are highly factionalised and have a history of deputies breaking away to become independents and doing deals with the right when they feel their party is being too intransigent – the cases of Tomáš Teplík (who moved to ODS) and Josef Wagner in 1996-7 come to mind.

If the Civic Democrats have any nous, no cash or property will change hands, but a lucrative appointment for the two ex-Social Democrats will soon materialise. An alcoholic ODS deputy . Josef Kott, expelled from the party for being drunk in parliament – thank God the Czechs have some kind of standards, as the experience of picaresque Tory diarist Alan Clarke this kind of thing was traditionally excusable in the House of Commons – stepped down (allowing a replacement from the party’s electoral list) and was soon after appointed to a executive post in the state run General Health Insurance (VZP). No wonder the Czech health service is not in a good state.

If all this shows anything – apart from the fact that Czech politics is deadlocked, which we’ve known for a decade – it isthat Topolánek, despite being one of the most accident prone politicians in the Czech Republic, is a man who is lucky. Indeed, as the 2002 ODS congress was midway through electing a replacement for Klaus, his (ex-)wife Pavla rushed up to the podium and told delegates in an excruciating improvised contribution that they should back him precisely for this reason.

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