When Miloš Zeman decided to run for president last year, his ambition was not solely to indulge in a prestigious five-year stay at the Castle, and admire the panorama from the higher area of Hradčany in Prague, perhaps with a glass of his favorite liquor in his hand. Only the naive would think otherwise, and the latest developments on the Czech political scene, with the establishment of a completely new technocratic government with no preliminary agreement among the political forces represented in Parliament, confirm that Zeman aims to be the top dog of national politics, with decisive power in the political decision-making in the country. Especially since the technocratic government in formation consists mainly of followers and friends of the President, starting with the Prime Minister appointed, economist Jiří Rusnok, a former Finance Minister of a social democratic background, who recently held the position of Economic advisor of Zeman.
The Czech Constitution does not attribute this role from presidential system to the Head of State, but it was not difficult to predict that Zeman, a leader known for his great political insight and undisputed popular following, and the first President elected directly by the citizens, would have taken advantage of the “popular ordinance” to achieve this goal, especially in a time of crisis like this. A time in which the growing discontent among the people and with confidence in the political class at a historic low.
Besides, even his steps in the election campaign had been more than eloquent, since he managed to gather consensus, particularly through fierce criticism of the Nečas government and its policy of austerity.
At this point, however, it is necessary to make an observation: that the collapse of the Nečas government was partly his own doing. The politician, who had presented himself as the leader in the fight against corruption, ended up in a grotesque way, stumbling into the Nagyová scandal, named after the chief of staff and alleged mistress of the Prime Minister, who for years was the strategist behind much of the misdeeds which revolved around the executive. A story of low, even paradoxical, morality for a government like the Nečas one, which placed fighting corruption and illegality as its main objective.
The shameful fall of Nečas has done nothing but favour Zeman in his mission, as he now finds himself with an open road ahead, in which he can move his pawns and take control of the situation.
The case of the consultations with the leaders of all political parties is exemplary, although some observers have labelled it as a mere formality, even a sham. Zeman actually, when in the castle in the countryside of Lány, he met various party leaders and listened to the various proposals on ending the crisis, perhaps to the point of boredom. In fact he had already made the decision to go his own way, focusing on a so-called technocratic government, or “government of experts”, as he likes to say, one formed by his friends and supporters. The name of Jiří Rusnok, as a future technocrat Prime Minister, began to circulate before the consultations had even begun.
An almost pathetic alternative solution was proposed by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) to Zeman, namely the proposal to revive a patched up center-right coalition, including ODS, TOP09 and Lidem, while entrusting the task of forming the government to the President of the Chamber of deputies, Ms. Miroslava Němcová. The name of the latter, immediately seemed too weak a compromise, due to internal squabbling among the big ODS members, who for years now have been tearing the party apart. A solution to which Zeman has summarized by saying: “The country today needs another kind of solution. I’d rather entrust the task to an expert like Rusnok, because I consider him to be able to choose the right people to serve the country while taking the right measures when there is urgency”. The last minute assurances made by Němcová proved to be worthless, after she made late calls to the President, to try to convince him that she had gathered the signatures of 101 deputies out of 200, all willing to give their vote of confidence.
“I think that the public does not agree with the survival of a government based on the same coalition that supported Nečas” said Zeman when closing his speech. Evidently, on the strength of the direct vote of the citizens which brought him to the Castle, he demonstrates he has no qualms even about speaking as if he were an “interpreter of public will”.
A attitude of such “decisionism” which has caused many constitutional law experts to turn up their noses, and define Zeman’s desire for a technocratic government without being able to count on the required majority of 101 MPs in the House as “an extreme, excessive and totally unprecedented situation”. Among the experts however, the prevalent opinion that there is no explicit violation of constitutional rules and what plays a decisive role is Zeman’s ability to use the powers the presidential office offers him and to exploit space given to him by the apparent weaknesses of the other parties.
As for the opposition, the Social Democrats of the ČSSD, the main force of the left, have called for early elections since the beginning of the crisis. Zeman does not like this solution and it is unlikely that he will be able to convince even the ČSSD, the party which he was a founder of, and one in which he still has many supporters.
(Last press conference for the Government of Petr Nečas)
The request for the immediate dissolution of the House, that the Social Democrats announced they intended to submit, would require a favorable vote of 120 deputies out of 200 to be accepted, a number that it seems is very unlikely to be reached.
On the other side, the forces of the centre-right, the ODS, Top 09 and Lidem, appear to be well aware, after three years of a strict policy of austerity, of the situation within the constituency, and they know, that should there be early elections, they would face an almost certain defeat.
Facing the self-dissolution of the House, are also some more prosaic reasons, firstly the fact many Members of Parliament have no intention of giving up their salary and other privileges reserved for them. Many of them, have a mortgage to pay, and they fear that once unemployed, they will be unable fulfil the requirements.
This too is a reason why, beyond the angry public statements of various politicians, it is even possible that without confidence, the Zeman inspired technocratic government, will remain at the helm of the country until the natural end of the legislature, which is scheduled for spring next year. This is without even excluding the hypothesis, that the executive branch manages even to find sufficient support to approve the laws that they have proposed.
by Giovanni Usai