They’re at it again…

Last week in Czech politics was an exciting one from the point of view of my research. Part of my argument suggests that we should see if anything an increase of politicization of the communist past and the involvement in it of individual politicians. The campaign for the parliamentary elections (to be held 25 and 26 October) fits that pattern nicely – last week not one but two key candidates in the elections were confronted with their involvement with the communist regime.

Miroslav Šlouf, one of president Zeman’s foremost advisors, has long been someone the Czechs loved to hate, in no small part because of the communist party membership he held before 1989, and also because he’s seen by some as a part of persisting communist structures. This week, the Zemanites (SPOZ, the party that backs president Zeman even though he is not formally the party leader) announced that Šlouf would be running for a seat in parliament for Prague. Soon enough, a video resurfaced from about thirty years ago in which Šlouf talks about his time in the Communist Youth Movement and how he, as a communist, sees developments in the world. The Šlouf candidacy is now being reconsidered, a move that has stunned Šlouf, who stated such manoeuvres didn’t happen ‘even under the former regime’.

Later on, Czech Television published the entire 21 page secret service file (linked to here on the website of Hospodářské Noviny) documenting the time that Andrej Babiš was an informer. Babiš is leader of an upstart movement called  ANO (Czech for ‘yes’) His involvement has been the subject of a court case for a while, and it’s not the first time that people are hearing about it but clearly, it is now also a part of the campaign.

All of this is in line with the communist past playing if anything an increased role in politics, including campaigns, in part as a result of laws organizing access to and declassification of secret service files. Those laws did not live up to the expectations that they would end acerbic debate and unify the population. Instead, they contribute to intensifying an already complicated campaign. The Czech party system is in disarray, and new parties are coming up left and right. Among them are the parties that I mentioned above:

  • The Zemanites, supporters of president Zeman, joined together in a party called SPOZ.
  • ANO (Czech for ‘yes’), the party around billionaire Andrej Babiš.
  • Úsvít, a ‘movement’ headed by Tomio Okamura, who also ran for president.

Two more former heavy weights have announced their own parties, but they’re not running at the moment.

  •  The party around former prime-minister Jiří Paroubek, LEV21.
  •  LES, the new party recently started by former Deputy PM Martin Bursík, previously of the Green Party, who wanted to take his party in a more right-wing direction.

In addition to these new parties, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) are making an attempt to return to parliament after not making the five per cent voting threshold in 2010. What I find interesting about the new parties is that they’re the vehicles of former leaders of more mainstream parties. Zeman and Paroubek both led social democratic (ČSSD) governments; Bursík was deputy prime minister and leader of the Greens. In other cases, they’re running on more populist agendas. If Úsvít and ANO make it in, they’ll be replacing some populist predecessors (VV, LIDEM).

 A number of these new upstarts are hovering around the five per cent mark. For the moment, this makes the elections very difficult to predict: as much as 25 per cent of the votes might be cast for parties that end up not making the threshold, which means that the next Czech parliament may have between four and ten parties. It also means that it is difficult to gauge whether the social democratic vote share (possibly combined with the communists) will give them an outright majority or not. This will be the big question over the coming weeks, and one that we’ll be unlikely to have an answer to until the polls close.  

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