Who Needs Government? By Marian Tupy :
- Who Needs Government?
By Marian Tupy : 25 Oct 2006
The Czech Republic, which held general elections in June, still has no
government. Judging by the atmosphere of mistrust between the main political
parties, it is unlikely that the Czechs will have a government anytime soon. Five
months later, the only certainty is that political stalemate is likely to
continue until an early election can be agreed. Notably, the sky has not fallen.
The country's institutional framework remains sturdy, the economy continues
to grow apace, and some Czechs wonder if they even need government at all.
The stalemate resulted from a mathematically unlikely but politically
possible scenario in which no coalition can win a majority in Parliament. In
December 1992, the Czechoslovak federation had only a few days left before its two
constituent parts - the Czech lands and Slovakia - would separate into two
independent nation-states. The team around Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus
was putting final touch-ups on the Constitution, which, inspired by the
Constitution of the United States, would ensure a balance of power between the two
houses of Parliament and the presidency.
Some critics worried that the lower house of Parliament, with 200 members,
could end up splitting evenly between two hostile camps, unable to reach a
compromise. They wanted to limit the number of MPs to 199. In the end, the
authors of the Czech Constitution deemed such a scenario far too improbable. The
elections to the lower house were to be conducted on a principle of
proportionality, with all parties that won at least 5 percent of the vote earning a
presence in the lower house. This would, the logic went, result in enough small
parties and coalition possibilities to prevent gridlock.
This past June, that very unlikely scenario became reality.
The Civic Democratic Party, which Klaus established and used to head,
defeated the Social Democrats and won 81 seats. The Social Democrats received 74
seats, the Communists 26 seats, the Christian Democratic Union 13 seats and the
Green Party 6 seats. The Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens
want to govern together, but cannot, because they only have the support of 100
MPs. To function, a government needs the support of 101 MPs.
The Social Democrats could govern with the Communists, but together they too
are one MP short of a majority. A coalition of the Social Democrats,
Christian Democrats and Greens would be short of a majority too. It would,
therefore, need the tacit support of the Communists. Both the Christian Democrats and
Greens ruled that out. It seems that a grand coalition of the Civic Democrats
and Social Democrats is out of question as well, because the Civic Democrat
leader Mirek Topolanek and the Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek detest
and distrust one another.
According to the Czech Constitution, it is the President who designates the
Prime Minister and tasks him with the job of finding majority support in the
lower house. The President of the Czech Republic is none other than Vaclav
Klaus, who was elected to the job over 3 years ago. Predictably, he chose Mirek
Topolanek - Klaus's successor as the leader of the Civic Democrats and the
winner of the June election. After months of trying, Topolanek failed to break
the deadlock and resigned. He remains as a caretaker Prime Minister, but has
no power to carry out his legislative agenda.
The Social Democrats, now the second-most powerful party in Parliament, are
the next logical candidates to attempt to form a government. Klaus, however,
does not wish to give Paroubek the opportunity. Publicly, Klaus claims that
he worries that Paroubek's government would be too unstable. In reality, Klaus
worries that Paroubek will succeed in getting one MP from the Green Party or
Christian Democrats to switch allegiances. The obvious solution for the
country would be to hold an early election. But Paroubek, seeing his party's
preferences slipping in recent weeks due to the recently unearthed evidence of
corruption committed by the Social Democrats when they were in power, refuses
to give early election the necessary parliamentary approval. And so the
All the while, the Czech economy continues to perform nicely. Unemployment
fell from 8.8 percent in August 2005 to 7.8 percent in August 2006, and
economic growth is projected to reach 6 percent this year. The continued growth of
the economy suggests that the investors perceive the Czech Republic as a safe
place for their savings. That is a vote of confidence in the strength of the
Czech institutional framework and the progress that the country has made
since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It appears that the Czechs can afford to be without government a little
Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Global
Liberty and Prosperity.
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