The right-of-centre Civic Democrats enjoyed wide success in municipal elections at the weekend, coming first in many of the country's major cities and towns. But, nowhere was their success more pronounced than in the Czech capital, where the party - led by Mayor Pavel Bem - clinched an unprecedented 54 percent of the vote. The result gave the Civic Democrats an outright majority, 42 of a possible 70 seats on the assembly that elects the mayor and city council. The result means that after an eight-year-long coalition with the leftist Social Democrats, the centre-right party is now likely to govern alone.
For the Mayor Pavel Bem last weekend was nothing if not a triumph, his party dominating in Prague municipal elections. But now, the more difficult work begins. As it stands, the Civic Democrats have to decide whether to govern alone - or to opt for some form of a coalition: one that would negotiate on everything from lowering crime to improving transit in the Czech capital. Mr Bem has already indicated he'll prefer an all-Civic Democrat municipal government which he suggested would be both "strong" as well as "transparent". But, that doesn't mean he's ruled other options out. On Monday he spoke to Czech Radio:
"I think it's important for us to meet with potential coalition partners and discuss issues and priorities - even, if in the end, we end up governing alone. It's important to find common ground on issues - given the fact that we will soon be faced with a number of unpopular decisions: for example, how to regulate the number of cars in the city centre, introducing tolls."
Potential partners on the city council could include the European Democrats - who until recently enjoyed strong representation at city hall but fared poorly in the weekend's elections, retaining just four of a previous fifteen seats. Traditionally, the European Democrats and Mr Bem's party have been close on issues including road policy and improvements to the city's police force. Other potential partners could be the Greens, though they have limited experience.
This much, at least, seems certain: it's the end of the fairly successful eight-year coalition with the Social Democrats, now slated to be in the opposition. Civic Democratic party head and acting Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has recommended that wherever possible his party not form coalitions with the Social Democrats on local governments, the reason - apparently - that at the national level each party has been vying for even the slimmest advantage since parliamentary elections ended in stalemate in June. It seems a fair assessment that Mr Topolanek is now aiming not only to capitalise on the Social Democrats' weaker showing but also to undermine the position of its leader Jiri Paroubek. The two men, to put it mildly, do not exactly see eye to eye.
On the other hand, it's very likely that at least in some towns the Civic and Social Democrats will form coalitions, namely where it is advantageous for them to do so. The east Moravian city of Ostrava can serve as an example: there, the Civic Democrats have been recommended to reach agreement with the Social Democrats, rather than risk being sidestepped by the latter forming a coalition with the Communists.
Other coalition talks throughout the country involving the Christian Democrats, the Greens, and smaller local parties, have also already begun. Where they can, it seems that the Civic Democrats are opting to work with smaller centre-right parties rather than with the leftists - or even alone.
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