Friday, 18 April 2014

Illusion about Zeman's government based on myths

24 January 2013

Prague, Jan 23 (CTK) - There is no doubt that the illusion of the "great era of rule" of former Czech Social Democrat (CSSD) prime minister Milos Zeman is much more based on myths than reality, Ludek Niedermayer writes in daily Hospodarske noviny Wednesday, commenting on the presidential election second round.

Zeman was prime minister of a minority CSSD government in 1998-2002 that was supported by the rightist Civic Democrats (ODS), then chaired by current President Vaclav Klaus, in exchange for a portion of influence. This alliance was embedded in the two parties' opposition agreement.

Zeman will compete for the presidential post with Foreign Minister and TOP 09 head Karel Schwarzenberg in the first direct presidential election run-off vote on Friday and Saturday.

Niedermayer, former central bank vice-governor, writes that Zeman proudly recalls his past premiership while many people consider Schwarzenberg's participation in the current unpopular centre-right coalition government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) a minus.

Niedermayer writes that it is difficult for this country to objectively describe what was going on at the end of the 1990s, when Klaus's coalition government fell over the murky funding of the ODS he chaired.

He writes that the database of the Czech Statistical Office (CSU) show that in 1999, one year after Zeman's government assumed power, the eeconomy turned towards a growth after a two-year slight decline.

The growth accelerated to 4.2 percent one year later, but this was followed by a decrease towards a half that pace in 2002 when Zeman's government was ending, Niedermayer writes.

He says a big increase in investments in 2000 played an important role after three years of decline. Unemployment reached 8.9 percent in 2000, which was the biggest level from when the CSU started to register the figure, Niedermayer writes.

That is why, he writes, the favourable assessment of "Zeman's rule" is not based on figures, but on the interpretation of the performance of Klaus's previous governments.

Zeman deserves thanks for the quick and successful privatisation of banks, carried out in a transparent way, and a resolute support to investments. The government also paid attention to the notorious problems of the Czech economy in the field of law, such as bankruptcies, Niedermayer writes.

A look at Zeman's personnel policy offers a rather different picture. As a prime minister who brought the CSSD to government definitively had an unusually strong influence, and consequently also responsibility for filling government posts, Niedermayer writes.

He says with the exception of the names that are still respected, such as (current Constitutional Court head) Pavel Rychetsky, economist Pavel Mertlik and the late (ombudsman) Otakar Motejl and (culture minister) Pavel Dostal, some controversial figures were on Zeman's government.

The situation was even more "interesting" in the circle of formal and informal advisers, Neidermayer writes.

The proclaimed contribution of the opposition agreement is also most dubious. It provided for a partitioning of power, if not even for the influence on state property rather than for seeking consensus on the country's heading for which the public are now calling more than before, Niedermayer writes.

He writes that the consequences of the opposition agreement in the form of growing politicisation of the state apparatus or the emergence of intricate interest groups burden the country to date.

It should not be forgotten that also a number of "wild" privatisations, such as of the Mostecka uhelna coal mining company, took their roots at that time, Niedermayer writes.

At the same time when Zeman's government was trying to correct a number of bad things in the country, it was creating new problems, including the introduction of coarse manners in politics, arrogance and unprecedented attacks on journalists, Schwarzenberg participated in the emergence of the Drevic Call.

It was signed in March 1999 at his mansion near Prague at which he hosted a group of economists who issued a text describing the weak points of the Czech economy and appealed for changes, Niedermayer writes.

He writes that the call is still topical and it shows how the following governments, including Zeman's one, were unable to deal with the obvious problems.

The Drevic document calls among others for reforms of the budget policy, the pension system and the judiciary as well as for cutting bureaucracy.

It is difficult to say whether expertise in the sphere of diplomacy and cooperation with former president Vaclav Havel on Schwarzenberg's side is better for the presidential post than the successes as well as controversies connected with the former political party head and prime minister combined with ten years spent outside politics, Niedermayer writes.

One thing is clear, however. The Czech Republic is in a politically and economically difficult situation, in which it is important who will replace the more and more controversial President Vaclav Klaus (whose term expires on March 7), Niedermayer writes.

The analogy with the time of the Drevic call may be exaggerated, but it may show that there is some truth in it, Niedermayer writes.

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