Weird Coalition Politics

So the current Czech government is a coalition government made up of ODS (the Civic Democrats), TOP ’09 (TOP stands for Tradice, Odpovědnost, Prosperita, ie Tradition, Responsibility, and Prosperity), and a party called LIDEM. LIDEM is short for Liberal Democrats, but the word lidem also means ‘by the people’ or ‘for people’*. It’s clever.

LIDEM as a party did not exist in 2010 when there were elections. The people now in LIDEM came out of a party called Věci Veřejné (VV), or Public Affairs. This party joined ODS and TOP09 in the coalition but succombed to internal strife. It left the coalition, and suffered the breakaway of a number of MPs that remained in the coalition as LIDEM. The original coalition relied on the support of 118 MPs (out of 200), 24 of which were VV candidates. Of those 24, eight joined LIDEM and when they did, the coalition lost the support of 16 MPs, giving it only a very narrow 2-seat majority (102 out of 200).

This would give LIDEM a pretty nice bargaining position, one would think. However, their position in the coalition has been, in political science terms, downright weird. LIDEM’s leader, Karolína Peake, is vice-premier but has no actual policy portfolio. In December 2012, she was given the Ministry of Defence, but PM Nečas relieved her of her post after eight days after she sacked a number of high-ranking officials in the ministry. At the time, Nečas stated that his trust in Peake ‘had dropped to negative values’. Nečas took over the Ministry and last month, a new non-partisan minister was appointed, a decision about which Peake and/or LIDEM were not consulted. Remarkably, the man appointed as the new Defence minister was one of those that Peake had fired during her brief, eight-day tenure as Defence minister.

This is not the only example of LIDEM losing ministerial posts and receiving little or nothing in return. Earlier in December 2012, another LIDEM minister left (Pavel Dobeš) on his own accord after a conflict with his own party and Peake in particular. He was replaced by an ODS minister (Zbyněk Stanjura).

Political science theory about coalition formation and behavior relies fairly heavily on the assumption that influence on policy making (in the form of ministry posts) are the key chips that parties bargain with. In December 2012, LIDEM had a number of their chips taken away and seems to have gotten little in return. Their behavior might be explained by looking towards the future and to the polls, which predict the complete disappearance of LIDEM – but these same polls also predict (and have been predicting for a long time) that ODS (and to a lesser degree TOP 09) will suffer at the hands of the voters (Poll 1, Poll 2 (pdf)). LIDEM’s partners have just as much to lose from new elections, so it is not clear to me why PM Nečas has been able to treat LIDEM the way he has. Could it be that political science theory is wrong?

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* lidem is the unlikely dative plural of ‘člověk’, which means human or person, which makes lidem mean ‘for people, for a bunch of persons’; but it is also the instrumental singular of lid, which means ‘a people’ – so lidem can also mean ‘by the people’, where people refers to a political collective akin to nation (although Czech reserves národ for that, which shares the etymology of birth with nation). The Czech here shares an ambiguity with English in that it does not entirely differentiate between the plural people as a number of persons and people as a singular political unit similar to nation. Other languages use non-cognate terms to make this difference – cf German Mensch, Menschen for ‘person, people’ and Volk for ‘a people’, or French, les gens, le peuple. Both French and German also have die Nation/la nation in addition to das Volk/le peuple.

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