Less than twenty-four hours before polling stations open for general elections the two strongest parties on the Czech political scene - the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats - are running a very tight race. Although it is not clear which of them will be first past the post it is almost certain that neither will win enough votes to set up its own majority government. Coalition and consensus is the name of the game on the Czech political scene and political analysts are already debating the pros and cons of various coalition scenarios.
In a system of proportional representation pact building is a post-election necessity. And although only five parties are expected to cross the 5% margin needed to gain seats in parliament the possibilities are considerable: a grand coalition of the two biggest parties, a majority coalition government or a minority government with the tacit support of part of the opposition. In the last decade the Czech Republic has been run by coalitions with a very slim majority or by a minority government. Such pacts are in danger of crumbling at a time of crisis - and on occasion legislation is hard to push through.
As usual all five parties which are expected to make it to Parliament - the Social Democrats, the Civic Democrats, the Communists, the Greens and the Christian Democrats are keeping their options open. However some restrictions are surfacing. If opinion surveys are anything to go by then the Greens and the Christian Democrats are going to be the kingmakers - or power brokers- in these elections. Neither want anything to do with the Communists, who have come third in the last two elections. So it appears that the Greens and Christian Democrats will either swing right or left depending on which of the two big parties is in a position to make a first -or better - offer.
However the process of power brokering in such a scenario would not be easy. The Social Democrats are not on the best of terms with the Christian Democrats who in recent months have acted more like an opposition party than a member of the governing coalition. On the other hand the opposition Civic Democrats are wary of the Greens who have made it clear that they will not support President Klaus - the founder of the Civic Democratic Party - in the next presidential elections. And to complicate matters further, the leader of the Greens is now furious with the leader off the Social Democrats, accusing him of sowing friction within the Greens and helping to establish a leftist faction within the party. Political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova says that although the Green Party clearly has a place in Czech politics a coalition involving the Greens - would not be easy for either of the bigger parties:
"Any coalition with the Greens is considered very problematic. In this case it would depend upon how strong the coalition would be. If it was a tiny majority of 101 or 102 votes - with one or two MPs forming the majority - then this could be problematic because the Greens who would make it to Parliament are very individualistic. They are strong personalities and the party is not very disciplined, not very well organized. There could be a lot of alternative positions and in a parliamentary system this really can complicate the decision making process and the efficiency of the Cabinet."
Despite the possible problems with a party that is new to high politics and not too consolidated and another which has a reputation of wrecking coalition governments - the coalition scenarios involving the Greens and Christian Democrats appear to be the most likely at this point.
So barring some unprecedented development in terms of voter preferences - the Czech Republic could be facing another stalemate followed by a fragile coalition government. For some this is proof that a majority election system might be preferable to a proportional one. But others, like Vladimira Dvorakova, highlight the importance of consensus.
"You know in the Czech Republic people are very strongly against compromise, against consensus, they consider it to be something immoral. This is very different from Western countries where the ability to find some compromise and reach consensus is regarded as a basic skill of any good and responsible politician. I think that compromises are also important because they do not polarize society, society is not divided into winners and losers and it helps to integrate society."
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