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Elections: Forward to the past?

BY GRAHAM MATTHEWS | PRAGUE DAILY MONITOR

At stake are 200 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Czech Parliament), including the position as Prime Minister and Head of Government. Many people are hoping this will finally put an end to the political instability the country has recently been experiencing. The results are sure to be interesting but there are also fears that in a way history could be about to repeat itself.

In June Prime Minister and leader of the centre-right Civic Democratic Party, Petr Nečas, stepped down after being elected as part of a three party coalition in 2010. When some high-up members of his party were involved in a corruption and bribery scandal, including his alleged mistress and chief of staff Jana Nagyová, he eventually resigned.

Currently the country has President Miloš Zeman as the chief of state, the third President of the country and first to be directly elected (the previous two were elected by Parliament). He assumed office in March this year but had previously served as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2002 while leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), of whom he is no longer a member. His position will not be affected by these elections but he will have to work with whoever is victorious in them.

President Zeman controversially appointed current Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok, a friend and long-time ally, before he lost a vote of confidence in August and Parliament was dissolved. The Social Democrats are favourites according to the latest opinion polls but they look unlikely to win a majority and a coalition is predicted by many. What is starting to worry some Czech (and foreign) people is who will be involved in that expected coalition and the future make-up of their government.

Recent opinion polls have shown a drop in popularity for some of the five parties who currently hold seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The Civic Democratic Party and TOP 09 have seen dips since the first opinion polls in September, with only the Social Democrats seeing a slight improvement on their 2010 election results. The other party which currently holds seats and according to certain sources has the second highest popularity among voters is KSČM, or The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia to give them their full name.
The predicted outcome of these elections by a few political analysts is for a minority government of the Social Democrats (CSSD) leaning on the KSCM’s support. There have already been warning acts by anti-communist groups, such as the hanging of dummies around the Czech Republic symbolising more than 250 people the old communist regime executed for political reasons during their tenure. It is 24 years since the fall of communism in the Czech Republic and there is now a generation who have grown up not knowing what it is like to live in a country under communist rule. Of course there is another generation knowing full well what problems it can bring such as poverty, disappearances and violence. So why are they appearing to have such a big influence again?

The economy is one reason, with little changing under the previous government people have started to look for more extreme measures to tackle it, and communism provides these. Much like in Greece and the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, for some they give a quick solution. Unlike Greece though, the Czech Republic isn’t a member of the Eurozone and was nowhere near as badly affected as countries like Greece, Spain or Ireland but the global recession has still had an impact.

Another related factor is a kind of split seen between the capital Prague and the rest of the country. Since the early 1990s the city has seen a boom in tourism and capitalism, with thousands visiting and pumping money into the local economy. The unofficial global sign for capitalism, McDonald’s was once absent but there are now around 30 all over the city and new business have started up everywhere. The same can’t be said for the rest of the country, with some areas yet to see many of the rewards from the country’s developments. It is therefore no surprise that the majority of communist supporters are found outside the capital.

With a national population of around ten million, eight million of whom can vote, and Prague having about 1.2 million residents, that leaves somewhere near seven million people outside of the capital able to vote. Voter turnout averages 60%, but many who would normally not participate are being encouraged to vote just so the communists get less of the share.

At the end of the day it would be madness to suggest the Czech Republic would revert back to a communist regime, and opinion polls show that is unlikely. Then again, when they were finally kicked out in 1989 and the millions who had rallied against them danced in the tank-free streets, few would have predicted (or wanted) the country to return to those days. This coming weekend the country will find out just how much (or little) influence they will have again.



 

 
 
 
 
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