Last-minute shift throws political system into chaos
Paroubek drops support for early elections, polls to come in spring 2010
Posted: September 16, 2009
Political analysts say that while Paroubek will receive much of the blame for this latest crisis, the problem is more widespread.
Early parliamentary elections, already once delayed, will now not take place at all.
Any further legislative action to push for November elections was doomed to failure in the form of another challenge before the Constitutional Court, say leaders from political parties who reversed course Sept. 15 and declined to support dissolving the Chamber of Deputies and calling new elections.
"Our country is on the verge of a full-scale political debacle," said political analyst Bohumíl Doležal.
The result is that the technocratic government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer - appointed as a caretaker in May - would most likely be left governing until June of next year, when the current Chamber of Deputies' mandate runs out and regular elections are already scheduled.
The dominoes fell starting with the Social Democrats (ČSSD) just hours before debate was to begin Sept. 15 in the Chamber of Deputies; the Green Party (DZ) and the Communists (KSČM) followed suit. Until the announcement, the widespread consensus was that the lower house would be dissolved and that authorities would push forward with a plan for elections in November.
"The Czech Republic needs a stable government at present more than ever, and the government of Jan Fischer must bear this responsibility," ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek wrote in a statement retracting his party's support for early elections. As late as Sept. 8, the ČSSD was insisting elections be held on the original early October date; now, they support, waiting until June 2010.
Bickering among political leaders immediately ensued with Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Mirek Topolánek threatening to resign his MP post if early elections did not take place.
"This decision of Paroubek means a deepening of the crisis and destabilization of the country," he said. "A person who changes his mind overnight has lost all his political credibility."
While myriad possibilities remain in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 15's chaos, the most likely is a vote of confidence on Fischer's government to entrench it for the remaining parliamentary term. Another key issue and part of Paroubek's alleged rationale for opposing early elections is that they would have interfered with passing a national budget for 2010, a risk deemed too big to take during tough economic times.
"We require that the government come up with a budget against the economic crisis, and we want this vote to be included with the vote of confidence for the Fischer government," Topolánek said.
After independent Deputy Miloš Melčak filed a challenge with the Constitutional Court over early elections originally slated for October, the court ruled in his favor Sept. 10, striking down the mechanisms used to call elections. To bypass this ruling, both houses of Parliament passed a constitutional amendment with the necessary three-fifths majority Sept. 11, which allowed the Chamber of Deputies to dissolve itself. At the same time, MPs passed a law shortening the period from 60 to 50 days that the president has to call for new elections. This was all meant to pave the way for elections in early November, but the process itself again appeared open to challenge in the Constitutional Court, and constitutional experts agree it easily could have been.
"Anyone who thinks their rights are being fundamentally breached can file a complaint with the court," said Ondřej Rathouský, a lawyer with Giese & Partners. "Generally, it is possible."
While, in theory, Parliament can alter the Constitution with a three-fifths majority, Rathouský said any changes now would have had to be retroactively applied to the law when voters elected this Chamber of Deputies in June 2006, which was the same argument that the Constitutional Court supported in its previous ruling Sept. 10.
"You shall not change the rules of the game while you are playing the game," he said.
Political parties seemed poised to press forward until Paroubek's sudden change of course, which leaves him open to charges of political opportunism, much as he was when he led the move in March of this year to take down Topolánek's government in the middle of the European Union presidency. However, other parties took a similar stand on the issue of November elections.
"We do not support the dissolution of Parliament," said Ondřej Liška, head of the Greens. "It is purpose-built, and it could be attacked again at the Constitutional Court."
Disgust with the way events unfolded was the general tone after Paroubek's announcement.
"We have ridiculed ourselves again," said former Foreign Affairs Minister and Top 09 party head Karel Schwarzenberg. "For me, this is a regretful moment; it is damaging to all of us in this country."
As events continued to develop as of press time, the question of who might benefit from the chaos was just beginning to circulate.
"What will happen next is hard to estimate," Doležal said. "But anybody in opposition is most likely to benefit. It can only be a benefit to parties least involved in it."
Some say it could play into the hands of fringe political parties, even right-wing groups.
While Paroubek will receive much of the blame for this latest crisis, Doležal says the problem is more widespread.
"Politics after November 1989 did not become a public matter, but only a matter for the few. People did not give a damn about politics and considered it unnecessary. The main culprit in this situation is the Czech people."
- Petr Cibulka Jr. and Klára Jiříčná contributed to this report.
Benjamin Cunningham can be reached at
Tags: election, Paroubek, government, Constitution.
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