I suppose I should have been on tenterhooks over the vote of no confidence in the Czech parliament not reading about the ‘greying’ of Europe’s trade unions, but frankly I wasn’t. True the Czech government is a minority administration and there a several ‘independent’ or semi-detached deputies in the chamber, making things unpredictable: four dissident, disillusioned or bought off Social Democrats; a group of three rebel Civic Democrats led by ex-Finance Minister, flat tax advocate and latterly orchestrator of a fake self-incriminating sex scandal, Vlastimil Tlustý, who are deeply hostile to the current Prime Minister, Mirek Topolánek (Topolánek dumped Tlustý and most radical flat tax commitments in early 2007); and various discontented deputies in the smallest, newest and most fractious parliamentary groups, the Green Party (junior party in the current centre-right government).
But a Czech government has never fallen in a no confidence vote and this one had survived three such votes, so I thought it would again would manage reasonably comfortably. At bottom, rebel and dissident MPs have no real incentive to bring a government down as they have no certainty of being re-elected in early elections or improving their position if some caretaker administration takes over. To succeed the motion would also need a majority of all deputies (101 votes), not just a majority of those voting, meaning that all former Social Democrats and at least one deputy from the coalition would need to vote ‘no’ (not just abstain)
And, of course, the government did survive – by 97 to 96 votes. But I was only half right. Social Democrat defectors either didn’t vote (2) or backed the government (2), but Tlustý and his allies abstained and two Greens didn’t vote. Presumably, some of them had calculated that although the government wouldn’t fall, it might just be politically humiliated and de-stabilized enough to give them additional leverage of various kinds. And, we should remember, if a formal vote of no confidence isn’t passed, it’s actually constitutionally very tricky to dissolve the lower house of the Czech parliament before scheduled elections.
I suppose the next thing to watch probably is the Civic Democrat congress and the position within the party of embattled Prime Minister – and, frankly which recently Czech Prime Minister hasn’t been embattled – Topolánek. I guess to a considerable extent this depends on the Senate run-off elections later this week and how badly the right does. The first-past-the-post system and strong, local and regional variations in Czech politics make for some fascinating contests, although this year independents and smaller parties have done less well, so most are straight Social Democrat/Civic Democrat contests.
My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that the 26 seats up for grabs will break down something like this Civic Democrats 7, Social Democrats 19, Christian Democrats and Communists 1 each. Contests to watch: Brno City (can the Civic Democrats pull in enough voters for other right0wing parties to overhaul the Social Democrats’ first round lead; Kladno – ex-dissident and former Czechoslovak Foreign Minsiter, Jiří Dienstbier had a narrow first round win standing on the Social Democrat ticker. He should win in the second round, if (and is that a big if?) Communist voters in this historically ‘red’ town overlook old emnities and vote for him.