TOP 09 in danger of being sidelined at Prague City Hall

Following the recent municipal elections, it appeared that the winners in the capital, TOP 09 (with its candidate for mayor Zdeněk Tůma) would head City Hall. But a little over a week later, that possibility seems fairly remote. Following negotiations, the other main parties, the Civic Democrats together with the Social Democrats, appear ready to bypass the winner entirely, allowing things to remain ‘business as usual’.

Zdeněk Tůma (left), Civic Democrats' Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTKZdeněk Tůma (left), Civic Democrats' Bohuslav Svoboda, photo: CTK A little earlier I spoke to Prague-based American journalist Erik Best:

“I think this was more or less to be expected from the very beginning. I think there was a concerted effort to give the impression that there would be changes at Prague city hall, both on the part of the Civic and Social Democrats, and that was in fact also strongly promoted by the media. But I think that all along they were planning on forming on a grand coalition between both parties.

“A similar such arrangement had already been in place for a number of years. In that respect this is really nothing new. What was new was that there was a new party – TOP 09 – that promised and thought that it could end this arrangement. Voters supported it massively with more than 30 percent of the vote but now we are finding out that this probably won’t come to pass and that voters will be tricked, with things remaining as they are.”

How do you think voters will react?

Prague City HallPrague City Hall “Well, the two parties seem to be dragging things out a bit for the sake of appearances: whenever you are doing something unpopular it’s better to prolong the time period. And because of that they will somewhat diminish the backlash by voters, although I think that undoubtedly voters will feel cheated. The other thing to remember, though, is that the next elections are a number of years away and that many things can happen between now and then. I suspect that the ruling parties think they will have a number of years to work it out.”

What are some of the concrete advantages for the Civic and Social Democrats to form a coalition? As you mentioned, it’s an arrangement that has been working for some time…

“First of all, you have very concrete business relationships that are in place, with specific politicians in both parties who have basically been running the city for several years. Those relationships are developers, they are operators of city-owned facilities and providers and members at utility companies because of the seats on the boards on some of these companies. So you have very specific relationships they want to maintain.

“If you bring in a new party it means disrupting some of those relationships and bringing in people who have not been part of that system so far. That’s one of the reasons I think that we are unlikely to see TOP 09 as the ruling party – because of all the business relationships involved.”

TOP 09 ran a fairly effective campaign in the run-up to the election: do you think they would be strong as an opposition party at city hall?

“I don’t think so. I think they would be a weak opposition party. Their voice would be very, very small and would therefore depend on the eloquence of their leaders. And their leaders in Prague are not eloquent at all. Not many journalists are going to want to talk to an opposition leader who isn’t able to stir up the masses and bring attention to the causes. I’m afraid if it works out that we do see a grand coalition between the other two parties, TOP 09 will sort of shrivel up in Prague, something that will impact its performance as well on the national level.”