>Who killed Czech politics?

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Czech President Václav Klaus weights in with a what-does-it-all-mean-all mean-for-us interpretation of the farcical ‘scandal’ in the CR’s governing centre-right Civic Democrat Party (ODS), which saw Prime Minister Topolánek’s rival Vlastimil Tlustý commission some ‘compromising’ photos of himself in order to catch Topolánek out. (Unfortunately, only a very minor ODS deputy, Jan Morava, snapped at the bait, although the opposition claims – with no real evidence – that he was working at Topolánek’s behest). Tlustý and his small band of supporters are currently waging (and losing) a destructive faction fight with Topolánek in ODS, although at least one pro-Topolánek deputy has resigned the ODS parliamentary whip and, given the government’s wafer thin parliamentary majority, we can look forward to nail biting votes of no confidence after the November regional and Senate elections have given a clearer indication of the Czech political weather.

So, what does it all mean? Klaus claims it shows that Czech politics has been emptied of real ideological content and, we are given to understand, descended into a crude and dirty struggle for power. Topolánek retorts that, if Czech politics, lacks content it is a legacy of the powersharing ‘Opposition Agreement’ deal Klaus himself negotiated with the centre-left in late 1990s to run a minority government. He (Topolánek) was barely able to stomach it, apparantly, but (surprise, surprise) kept stumm at the time, despite a leaked, disparing text message Klaus wrote about him after his suprise election as ODS leader in 2002. Tlustý, one of the few ex-Communist Party members left in a senior position in ODS (although like millions of other Czechs he was simply an opportunistic/pragmatic Party card holder, I should add) is, Topolánek say, is typical, cynical product of the Opposition Agreement era.

Although being a little precious – Czech politics has had its seamy side pretty much since the fall of the communism in November1989 – both PM and President are, I think, right and wrong at the same time. Tlustý had previously identified himself as standard bearer of those in ODS disillusioned with the compromises the party made after 2006 to hold power, especially the dilution of its radical flat-tax agenda it developed in opposition. As well as posing for mocked-up photos with blondes in swimming pools, he has a lot of techncial background on fiscal and tax issues. Regardless of Tlustý’s sincerity, there is clearly an ideological debate rumbling about the direction of the Czech under the surface. Unsurprisingly, neither PM nor President really want to acknowledge that.

Klaus is right, however, in seeing Topolánek as taking ODS in a more flexible, pragmatic direction, filtering its ideological agenda of liberal market reform – as welll as umpteen dodgy sectional and personal interests – through the realities of Czech politics and Czech society and coming up with a political programme and strategy defined by the need to keep the Greens/liberal-centrist on board and the deep rooted disinclination of many Czechs for any kind of red-blooded Thatcherism. The art of the possible. The 64,000 crown question is whether without the charisma and ideological hot gospelling of Klaus, he can hold together party and coalition together. The right are doing better in the polls and Green leader and market friendly eco-liberalMartin Bursík has, for the moment, crushed internal opposition , but watch this space.
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