Partied Out

Disappointed Urbanites Sigh Audible Over Political Mood

 By Jen-Yun Tiffany Huang

People around the world have a tendency to distrust their governments and hold politicians in contempt. This holds particularly true for citizens of post-communist countries, where freedom and capitalism were supposed to bring joy and riches to all after authoritarian rule was overthrown in 1989 or soon after. But this rainbow-and-unicorn scenario, as realistic as the canonization of Miley Cyrus, was replaced by the hardened reality of graft and a growing gap between rich and poor. Voters became suspicious early on in the transitional process that the winners of the new political game were not essentially more honest than their un-elected predecessors.  In the Czech Republic, a case in point, political leaders served their purses instead of their voters for decades. Elections thus elicit a collective groan from a beleaguered public.

Nonetheless, voter turnout in national elections, typically floating somewhere between 59-65%, is still as high, if not higher than, in the United States.

“Honestly, the chances of the Green Party winning is so low, it undermines my willingness to vote. At the end of the day, I’ll probably just vote for TOP 09.”

Who Votes for Who

For those not schooled in post-communist politics, the majority of younger, urban, college educated population in the Czech Republic tend to identify themselves with center-right political parties, as a counter to the country’s communist leftist past. “Most electorates are of the young to middle generation, and Prague itself is center-right oriented because of the higher proportion of university-educated people living here in the city,” said Tomas Trampota, 47, the director of institute of communication studies and journalism at Charles University. “The left-wing parties appeal to the more elderly voters that are less-educated, poorer, and live in other areas of the Czech Republic with more ‘traditional’ values, places such as Northern Bohemia and Central Moravia.” Left-wing policies in the Czech context include increasing public spending, fueled by increased taxation on real estate and corporations and higher earners.

 This October, the left-wing Social Democrats are poised to win the most seats in the 200-person Parliament. But they are not expected to win a majority of seats, or 101, and will have to seek out allies in order to run a government and pass legislation. Their popularity is due to the ongoing economic slowdown—during tough times the poor support a government more willing to spend money on them—and a rejection of the previously elected center-right government, which collapsed due to a wide-ranging corruption scandal.  (see related story: Petr Necas….)

 Rumors of a coalition Cabinet to be formed with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, currently in second place in polls, have caused slight unease amongst some voters “I fear that we will end with extremists in the Parliament,” said Tomas Klvana, 47. A professor at New York University and a business management consultant Klvana is afraid that “what we’re going to get will be worse than current conditions once the Social Democrats win the election and begin to cut deals with the Communist Party.”

The center-right party led by the sometimes sleepy Karel Schwarzenberg, a popular aristocrat, is preferred by many college-educated urbanites.  Photo Courtesy of www.ceskenoviny.cz

The center-right party led by the sometimes sleepy Karel Schwarzenberg, a popular aristocrat, is preferred by many college-educated urbanites.
Photo Courtesy of http://www.ceskenoviny.cz

“Corruption has always been a problem,” said Pavla Ksiazkiewiczova, 21. A student studying social sciences and international relations at Charles University, Ksiazkiewiczova shakes her head when thinking about past government scandals that politicians have been involved in. For instance, the recently deposed Prime Minister Petr Necas had an employee/mistress accused of using the military to spy on his wife.  While Ksiazkiewiczova  will be exercising her right to vote, she is still unsure of which party she’ll be supporting, but it will most likely be a more conservative party, such as TOP 09, led by Karel Schwarzenberg, a Czech aristocrat. Ksiazkiewiczova notes how “the frustration amongst the people is on the rise, and it’s been even harder to contain ever since the former prime minister resigned.”

 Meanwhile, Klvana’s personal preference for office is also TOP 09, a fiscally conservative, pro-business, center-right party whose main goals are to curb the budget deficit.  The party which was part of the last conservative government coalition, is currently third in the polls. “They have a good sense of direction of the economy, which includes lowering taxes, helping out those in need, and advancing towards the utilization of the Euro,” said Klvana, who may also be personally involved in promoting TOP 09’s campaign. He was a journalist earlier in his career and briefly worked for the former president, the right-wing iconoclast, Vaclav Klaus.

 Regardless of whichever party wins the election, Klvana hopes that education will be taken more seriously by the government. “The sluggish economy and slow economic growth is weakening the Czech Republic, which can be fought with the creation of a competitive environment through a stronger education system. Professors are underpaid, still teach in an old-fashioned way and do not integrate critical thinking and independent application of knowledge in real-world scenarios.” The education system is unable to attract the right talent of teachers because they must have other jobs on the side in order to support their families, Klvana explained.

The average wage of a public higher education professor in the Czech Republic, adjusted to the cost of living here, is approximately $29,940 USD, or 572,000 Kc. Education needs to be taken more seriously, so that it can then shape the way research, science and the economy can exponentially progress and advance in the Czech Republic, he noted.

At the end of October, Czechs will decide who will house the Chamber of Deputies. Photo courtesy of armradio.am.

At the end of October, Czechs will decide who will sit in the Chamber of Deputies.
Photo courtesy of armradio.am.

Filip Chraska, 22, a student of international business at the Prague School of Economics, identifies himself as a disappointed voter of TOP 09. “The problem with TOP 09 is the management of the party. It’s not Schwarzenberg himself, but rather some of the other high-ranking officials in the party. The policy of the last government officials failed, and didn’t deliver when they promised to make changes, such stabilize the fiscal figures of the Czech Republic.”

Chraska specifically pinpoints TOP 09’s policy of ten-percent cuts on each of the expenditures of the state, regardless of what the program spending was for. “They did shave down spending, but not with a smart economic policy. The current deficit in the Czech Republic runs at about $5,218,400,000, or about 100 billion Kc each year, and nongovernmental organizations estimate that that is how much we lose by corruption and non-transparent policies each year.” For this political election, he might consider putting his faith into the Green Party, “the only party that with a solid anti-corruption program.”

The Green Party, polling in ninth place, identifies as center left or center right, depending on the specific candidate. It is dedicated to environmentalism and egalitarianism. It currently holds no seats in the Lower House, and 1 seat in the Senate. The Green Party has struggled to gain solid advances against big players such as the Social Democrats and the conservative Civic Democrats, gaining only 2.4% in the last Parliamentary election (it is necessary to get at least 5% in order to get into Parliament). ” As a liberal economist, I don’t believe in stimulating the economy by fiscal measures; instead, I support long-term development that would be based on smart investments and education, and that is what the Green Party’s economic program is all about,” said Chraska. As he’s talking, Chraska sighs and shakes his head. “Honestly, the chances of the Green Party winning is so low, it undermines my willingness to vote. At the end of the day, I’ll probably just vote for TOP 09.”

 Petr Mucha, 44, a religion professor at New York University, thinks long and hard when asked which party he’ll throw his support behind. “I’m currently undecided, but I’m considering three parties—TOP 09, the Christian Democrats, and the Green Party.” Mucha trusts Schwarzenberg, but not other TOP 09 leaders such as Miroslav Kalousek, due to his alleged involvement in past corruption cases. With the Christian Democrats, the issue lies in the word “Christian” in their party name; since most of the Czech Republic is secular, Mucha believes that people will have a hard time supporting a party with a religious affiliation. Mucha  also says that the Green Party is politically fragmented; it does not have one vision or one voice to band its party together.

 If the Social Democrats win the election, Mucha has two main concerns. “Internally, there is a division between people that support President Zeman,” who is a former Social Democratic prime minister, “and those who oppose him. Personally, I am very against Zeman because I think he is one of the most corrupt politicians that have roots in the past regime. Second, if they win, they will need to cooperate and form a coalition with another political party; in this case, rumor has it that it may be the Communist Party. This aspect is very critical because the Communist Party will block important decisions in foreign policy, due to their aversion of European integration.”

Jen-Yun Tiffany Huang is in the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies, class of 2014. Her hometown is Orange County, California.

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Categories: Fall 2013 Issue Number 1, News

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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