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Czech News in English » Opinion » Commentariat: No need to speak only good of the dead

Commentariat: No need to speak only good of the dead

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Czech media commentators seemed remarkably stoical when the opposition succeeded Tuesday in its fifth attempt to bring down the government.

Many have seen it coming. Some would even say it was a miracle that Mirek Topolánek’s shaky coalition – a cobbled-together, forever-bickering partnership of the ODS, the KDU-ČSL and the Green Party – survived as long as it did.

There is little disagreement, however, that opposition leader Jiří Paroubek couldn’t have chosen a worse time: The country is in the middle of its EU presidency term and grappling with an economic recession. And while some argue that Topolánek’s cabinet deserved to die, others warn of Paroubek’s rise and the possibility of a new grand coalition. Many blame President Václav Klaus.

“I have completely underestimated the cynicism of Klaus and Paroubek, who are willing to throw the country into a long period of instability in the midst of an economic depression,” Hospodářské noviny’s Petr Kamberský says in his blog. But he adds, “No need to pity Topolánek. He made so many mistakes that it would have destroyed even a stronger man.”

For all its flaws, Topolánek’s administration brought some positive, although imperfectly executed changes: lower taxes, reforming the social subsidies system, as well as much-needed reforms in the justice system and the police force. The cabinet has also handled competently the first few months of the EU presidency.

So why did the government fall? And what will happen next?

Writing in, Martin Komárek sees the key problem in the very formation of the coalition government, able to come into existence only thanks to the support of two ČSSD defectors.

Another problem, he argues, was the well-intentioned but improperly explained healthcare reform that cost the ODS the regional and Senate elections in autumn.

And finally, there was Václav Klaus, who was re-elected president last year thanks to the support of the ODS, but ultimately turned against the party and resigned as its honorary chairman, further deepening the schism within the ODS between Klaus fans and Klaus detractors.

Is it such a great pity that Topolánek’s cabinet collapsed?

“There is no need to speak only good of the dead,” writes Komárek, pointing out Topolánek’s many shortcomings. He argues, though, that the current government was better than those that have preceded it. He cites the grand coalition between the ČSSD and the ODS that was in place from 1998 to 2002 as one of the Czech Republic’s worst governments, one that brought in “an atmosphere of corruption, irresponsibility, carelessness and bureaucratic inefficiency”.

Analyst Bohumil Doležal agrees in, saying we can expect the next few governments to be far worse than the one that just collapsed.

The next step is up to the president. Doležal speculates – and he is not the only one – that Klaus could have already made some backroom deal with the opposition, regarding who will be entrusted with putting together the next government and when. He notes that while the outgoing cabinet remains in power, not much will change. The worst that can happen is that the cabinet will get “the same zero tolerance [from Paroubek] it had up until now”, Doležal writes.

Ultimately, Topolánek and company might be relieved to hand over power to the ČSSD after living under constant attack for the last two and a half years. And in overthrowing the ruling coalition, the ČSSD has lost a useful scapegoat on which to blame all of the country’s problems, notes Alexandr Mitrofanov in Právo.

In his Hospodářské noviny blog, Jan Kubita presents three scenarios under which Paroubek could take over as prime minister:

A/Klaus decides to give the responsibility of setting up the new government to whoever has the most support in the Chamber of Deputies. This could be Paroubek, he did have a majority on Tuesday, after all, but it would require the support of the communists. As Kubita notes, this would leave a big stain in the eyes of the public on Klaus and on Paroubek.

B/Topolánek agrees to continue leading the existing cabinet and then hold early elections in autumn or in spring. But Kubita argues this is unlikely because the ODS would want elections as early as possible, while it still benefits from its increased popularity in connection with the EU presidency.

C/The ODS and the ČSSD decide to hold early elections and to change the election system to one that strengthens the position of bigger parties at the expense of smaller ones. The ČSSD and the ODS would both stand a chance of winning in such a system.

Petr Fischer, also of Hospodářské noviny, says the answer is none of the above: The likeliest outcome is a grand coalition between the ODS and the ČSSD, reminiscent of the opposition agreement seven years ago. This scenario, he says, would be by far the most crippling for the country.

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