Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Who will be the next in the line?

Today the Lower House of the Czech Parliament expressed its no confidence regarding the government of Mirek Topolánek. It is far from being certain that we will see an early election in this country as well, but even though his fall is not so tightly connected to the crisis as in the case of Latvia or Hungary, Topolánek is the third head of government in ECE having his cabinet collapsed in the beginning of the crisis.

It would be misleading to interpret the event as a result of the crisis in its entirety. Topolánek's government was a minority one (and the country's president, Vaclav Klaus, the predecessor of Topolánek in the chairmanship of the party nurtured a very visible enmity towards the prime minister), it relied on to renegade social democratic representatives from the beginning and his coalitional partners slowly dissolved themselves. At the moment the governemtn has only 96 MPs, the opposition 97 and 7 "independents" are the tip of the balance. Topolánek survived 4 (!) no confidence votes, partly because such a move needs 101 votes from 200 in the lower house to succeed. It was from the beginning typical petty politics, with money paid for votes, blackmailing but on the other hand very typical in the Czech political culture even in the interwar period. The pretext for another proposal for the opposition was a leaked video depicting one of the premiers aides trying to obstruct the airing of a TV program dealing with one of the renegade social democrats, who allegedly took thick governemnt funding for non-existent activities in the recent years. But I suppose that the eventual collapse of the government is also a result of the crisis making the existing rifts in the coalition more emphasized, especially as the prime minister's party gained popular support in the last three months, but solely at the expense of its partners. (Therefore the coalition as a whole fared not better against the opposition.)

This last point makes the action from the social democrats to bring down the government at this moment a bit hastened. Maybe Paroubek was worried about the narrowing of the gap between his party and the ODS (Party of Civic Democracy), but it was only justified because of the narrowing of his options regarding a possible coalition after an eventual election victory. Two months ago it was highly feasible that he will be able to form a minority or a coalition government with the support of one of the junior partners in the present coalition (the christian democrats or the greens), as his party fared at 44-45% of the votes, easily bringing more than 90 seats in the lower house. (Although this assumption sounds certainly a bit inconceivable for strangers to Czech politics, the christian democrats participated in the governemnts led by the social democrats between 1998 and 2006*, and once again the forming of coalitions with parties from very different parts of the political spectrum belongs to the traditions of Czech political culture as well.) Now he would be reliant on the communists, the outcasts of Czech politics, because they are not only legal but ideological sucessors of the Czech Communist Party. (But once again an illustrative event of the Czech politics, they played an important part in the re-election of their arch-enemy, Klaus as president). And maybe Topolánek will be secretly greatful for his opponents to take the burden of the handling of the crisis that is affecting the country more and more. It is certainly not a pure coincidence that Paroubek proposes to set up a government of experts until this fall instead of taking the responsibility.

But even if the collapse of this government is easy to be attributed to internal factors it highlits a very dangerous possibility: there is a not altogether slight chance for more and more political convulsion if the EU won't be able to stabilize the situation both in its core and at its periphery. Governemnts can fall one by one, social unrest can conquer the mind of the parliamentaries or the streets and spread towards the West. Even if the succesors of Topolánek or Gyurcsány will try to counter the crisis, the recipes offered at the moment won't be capable to calm down a gathering storm. What if the Polish government, having a populist opposition and president, will be compelled to admit that its budget is flawed and it will need harsh cuts? Unions in Romania are preparing demonstrations because of freezing the wages in the public sector. Ukraine is divided, its government is fighting with the president again and again while the economy's prospects are very dire. Bulgaria's unpopular government is facing a populist opposition as well. The EU elections will give an opportunity the unpoularity of the governments to be expressed, only to raise the pressure on the politicians. All those threats won't be relized necessarily but a domino effect is not the least probable scenario and a series of collapsing governments will once again, certainly in a strange way, call attention for the existence of ECE. Even if it is probable that almost every government in Europe will have to face very serious defeat in June.

(Actually the Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the EU for the first half of 2009 and the collapse of the government can be a serious blow to the community itself. But as the most important decisions regarding the crisis can be made by the large countries and the European Central Bank - that means the eurozone member states - it is not a real obstacle in the way of more determined action.)
*I should ask for my readers' forgiveness, as actually the first social democratic cabinet led by Milos Zeman was a minority government tolerated by Vaclav Klaus' ODS, the christian democrats were among the parties forcing Klaus to resign in 1997 and they only joined a coalition with the social democrats after the 2002 elections.

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