June 2002   česky

Shaken but still prickly. That's how the New York Times described Václav Klaus after his Civic Democrats, with 24% of vote, came in second to the Social Democrats. And he proved their point by accepting no responsibility for a campaign that focused squarely on him, by insisting that the only real winners were the Communists, who picked up every seat lost by the other three major parties. The Communists were able to capitalize on low voter turnout and a wave of nostalgia now sweeping the country to capture 18% of the vote, or more than one-fifth of the seats in parliament. They can also thank Klaus for his part in their comeback. He not only reached out to them to support his nationalist program, but his party's campaign of fear explicitly warned voters to "Stop the Socialists!" No word at all about the Communists. In the days after the vote, he even assured Communist Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek that he didn't vote for banning his party way back when (adding it would disappear on its own accord - he got that one wrong, too). It could be that Klaus is simply hedging his bets. Even with two defeats under his belt, he can still make life miserable for the Social Democrats and they know it. Their leader, Vladimir Spidla, swore during the campaign that co-habitation with Klaus was over. But with barely 30% of the vote, his best option is to form a coalition government with the Coalition Party. The problem there is the junior partners in that shaky organization, the oddly-named Unionists, are convinced that the senior partners, the equally oddly-named Populists, are determined to squeeze them out of the future government. The two have even sworn off cooperation in upcoming local elections. The Coalition's lame 14% showing would leave Spidla with a one-vote majority in parliament, and two of those votes belong to independents who have decamped to the Socialist Democrats. All it would take is one squabble over breakfast to bring the whole government down. And nobody squabbles like the Coalition does, nor has as many enemies. A coalition government with the Communists, who are ideologically closer to the Social Democrats in any case, would give Spidla solid support in parliament. But the Communists remain a pariah party for many, including, most importantly, President Havel, who leaves office in February, and he is not about to be remembered as the president who brought the Communists back into power. Now that Klaus won't be premier, he's available again to be president, and in this country, the president is elected by parliament, not by the people. His new chummy rapport with the Communists might have something to do with that, inasmuch as Spidla has already declared that his party would support out-going premier Milos Zeman for the job. Spidla is already off to a rough start if he takes seriously the idea of Zeman, a public smoker and drinker who delights in insulting people, as the president of any country. Perhaps it's only a smokescreen for Klaus to bring his party on board. In return, he will get the big cheese and the Democrats can continue their power-sharing agreement. The presence of the Civic Democrats in the cabinet would also be a welcome relief to those who fear Spidla's leftist leanings. An avowed Socialist, he's all for taxing the rich to pay for a generous welfare state. He's also determined to bring the Czech Republic into the European Union and knows he will have to get the budget under control to make that happen. But the election results have shown that the Czechs like their free college education, prescription drugs, universal health insurance, welfare for families, and so on. One of the more obnoxious slogans to come out of the campaign claimed, "The people vote for Klaus." But Klaus told the people that enough was enough, that it was time for them to pay their own way. The result is his party lost in every single region of the country except one in north Bohemia and, of course, in Prague. But the party still numbers some young, capable professionals who are ready to throw off the arrogance that besets their party, ready to work with the young, capable professionals in the Social Democrats. It's just a question of making room at the top. And that won't be easy with leaders like Vlastimil Tlusty, the minority whip for the Civic Democrats. When asked to explain his party's defeat, his reply was, "I have nothing to say to you whatsoever. I'm on my way to have a sandwich."