Left Set to Gain Big in Parliamentary Elections

Communists Poised for Greatest Influence Since 1989 Revolution

By Madeleine Overturf and SM Dipali

With left-wing parties leading polls for Czech Republic’s October 25-26 parliamentary election, the country is expected to move towards higher taxation and the end of limits on entitlement programs like public pensions rolled back by the previous conservative government.

The latest polls indicate that the Social Democrats, the country’s largest left-wing party, has the majority of support. According to a late-September survey by independent polling agency Meidan, they are leading by 32 percent. The agency reported 15.5 percent support for the Communists, who some worry will influence legislation more than at anytime since the 1989 overthrow of the Communist dictatorship.

Czechs fear a return of the Communist Party, but not necessarily a return of the 1949 May Day parades.

Czechs fear a return of the Communist Party, but not necessarily a return of the 1949 May Day parades.
Photo courtesy of WordPress.com.

“It is definitely possible to expect negotiations with KSCM (the Communist Party),” Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka told Reuters in August. “The Communists are in a number of town halls and in regional leaderships, and I do not see it causing problems.”

Pundits say the turn to the left reflects uncertainty over the financial crisis as well as weariness with years of corruption.

The new government will replace the center-right Cabinet of Prime Minister Petr Necas, who resigned in the summer after eight members of his inner circle were charged with bribery and the use of military intelligence to spy of Necas’ estranged wife.

“Czech politics is more like a business – the kind of business which people don’t trust,” said Jiri Pehe, a political commentator and former advisor to ex-President Vaclav Havel. “Of the 600 billion Czech crowns ($31.2 billion) spent on state projects each year, about 100 billion crowns are absorbed in corruption. And this estimate is conservative.”

The likely change in government power is also expected to strengthen the powers of President Milos Zeman, former chairman of Social Democrats who has also led the country as prime minister. Since taking office in March of this year, he took the unusual step of appointing a Post-Necas interim cabinet of so-called experts without Parliamentary approval. Zeman stacked the cabinet with his political allies, opting against the European tradition of appointing a team of unbiased experts.

Despite being described as “autocratic” and “dangerous” by both left and right-wing critics, the president still garners much public support. Many Czechs, pundits suggest, believe that a strong leader is necessary to combat widespread corruption and a deep economic crisis.

Zeman typically appears this clear-minded and focused in public.

President Milos Zeman does not hide his leftist leanings or fondness for spirits.
Photo courtesy of Blogspot.com.

“If the [Social Democrats] are elected and Zeman takes control, he has strong legislative and party machinery behind him to support his autocratic ambitions. He has never had that kind of power before,” said Pehe.

The Czech Republic, admired in the West for its stable economy and smooth transition to democracy after communism fell in 1989, is currently entrenched in the country’s worst economic recession.

“Of the 600 billion Czech crowns ($31.2 billion) spent on state projects each year, about 100 billion crowns are absorbed in corruption. And this estimate is conservative.”

Czech unemployment, though comparably low to other European Union countries such as Greece and Spain, remains the highest in the country’s post-Communist history at 7.5% – increasing to almost 20% in industry-heavy regions such as Northern Moravia. Furthermore, the implementation of heavy austerity measures — cuts in social programs —  by the last government and an increase in Value Added Tax was met with distaste by the vast majority in the country, where the average wage is 19,253 koruna a month ($1,003).

Necas’ government increased Czech taxes on consumable goods from 15% to 21% in 2012. The Social Democrats plan to slash these rates and instead raise income taxes for the middle and upper class, as well as increase the government’s public investment—a very different plan than the now-deposed government’s.

Furthermore, Social Democrats and Zeman have said they are looking into an indirect partnership with the Communist Party in order to comfortably gain majority in Parliament.

Within this agreement, the Communists would stay outside the cabinet and in Parliament for four years, in what Zeman calls a “political quarantine.” After such time, Zeman has said he would reevaluate their ability to hold a stake in the government, perhaps then awarding them with ministerial or high-advisory positions.

Madeleine Overturf is in the NYU Tisch class of 2014. Her hometown is Anchorage, Alaska.
SM Dipali is in the NYU Stern class of 2016. Her hometown is Cincinnati, Ohio.

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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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