Prospects good for communists, social democrats in Czech snap election

On August 20, the government of the Czech Republic’s caretaker Prime Minister, Jiri Rusnok, fell when a majority of the lower house of Parliament voted to dissolve itself.

This means that there will be a snap election, scheduled for October 25 and 26. Polling suggests that the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which had been pushing for new elections for a while, and the Social Democratic Party will make significant advances, with the possibility of a Social Democratic government supported by the communists on an issue by issue basis.

The previous government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas, a coalition of three right-wing parties (Nečas’ own Civic Democratic Party, TOP 09 headed by the former foreign minister, Prince Karl zu Schwarzenberg, and the Public Affairs Party, headed by Radek John) self destructed in June, after the revelation of massive corruption scandals which involved important figures in two of the three parties and close relatives and friends of the prime minister.

A close aid and lover of Nečas is formally accused, also, of abuse of power because of a scheme to use public resources to spy on the Prime Minister’s wife.

The Public Affairs Party, which touts itself as being anti-corruption, itself embarrassed itself and the coalition when a prominent party member, Minister of Transport Vit Barta was accused of corruption in 2011.

After this year’s corruption scandal, the left-center president, Miloš Zeman, then appointed Rusnok, a former Social Democrat and an economist, as caretaker prime minister. However, scandals about corruption are not the Czech Republic’s only problem.

The economy is in the doldrums, with high unemployment, especially in heavy industry, inflation and social problems, including increased bigoted attacks against the Roma (Gypsy) population which is used by the far right as a scapegoat for the country’s economic and social woes.

So when the vote in the caretaker government happened on August 20, 140 members of parliament of the 174 present (the total number is 200) voted to bring the government down by dissolving itself. President Zeman immediately scheduled the new elections.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia got 11.27 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections to the Chamber of Deputies, which translated into 26 of the Chamber’s 200 seats.  The Czech Social Democratic Party got 22.08 percent of the vote and 56 seats in that election, but it proved impossible to put together a left-center government, in part because the Social Democrats were reluctant to coalesce with the communists, with whom they disagree on issues such as NATO membership (Social Democrats are for it, Communists against).

Early public opinion surveys suggest that in the October election, both the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party could make considerable gains, as they are polling now at 32 percent and 15.5 percent respectively.

This time, the leader of the Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, says he will talk to the communists to see if an arrangement can be made whereby rather than being in a formal coalition, they could support a Social Democrat led government on an issue by issue, bill by bill basis.

In addition, the Czech Green Party, which got only 2.44 percent of the vote and no seats in 2010, has been moving toward the left precisely on the issue of whether to work with the communists or not.

It is of course too early to tell, but the stars seem to be aligning for a likely victory for a Social Democratic government supported by Communists, Greens and others after the October elections.

For the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, there must be feelings of vindication and satisfaction even before the new vote. In recent years, the conservative coalition has expended much energy on efforts to suppress the communists and prevent their party and its youth league from participating in elections. The result: The communists are doing even better than before, and their persecutors have been kicked out of government.

Photo: Jiri Rusnok. AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.