TCS Daily


Who Needs Government?

By Marian Tupy - October 25, 2006 12:00 AM

The Czech Republic, which held general elections in June, still has no government. Judging by the atmosphere of mistrust between the main political parties, it is unlikely that the Czechs will have a government anytime soon. Five months later, the only certainty is that political stalemate is likely to continue until an early election can be agreed. Notably, the sky has not fallen. The country's institutional framework remains sturdy, the economy continues to grow apace, and some Czechs wonder if they even need government at all.

The stalemate resulted from a mathematically unlikely but politically possible scenario in which no coalition can win a majority in Parliament. In December 1992, the Czechoslovak federation had only a few days left before its two constituent parts - the Czech lands and Slovakia - would separate into two independent nation-states. The team around Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus was putting final touch-ups on the Constitution, which, inspired by the Constitution of the United States, would ensure a balance of power between the two houses of Parliament and the presidency.

Some critics worried that the lower house of Parliament, with 200 members, could end up splitting evenly between two hostile camps, unable to reach a compromise. They wanted to limit the number of MPs to 199. In the end, the authors of the Czech Constitution deemed such a scenario far too improbable. The elections to the lower house were to be conducted on a principle of proportionality, with all parties that won at least 5 percent of the vote earning a presence in the lower house. This would, the logic went, result in enough small parties and coalition possibilities to prevent gridlock.

This past June, that very unlikely scenario became reality.

The Civic Democratic Party, which Klaus established and used to head, defeated the Social Democrats and won 81 seats. The Social Democrats received 74 seats, the Communists 26 seats, the Christian Democratic Union 13 seats and the Green Party 6 seats. The Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens want to govern together, but cannot, because they only have the support of 100 MPs. To function, a government needs the support of 101 MPs.

The Social Democrats could govern with the Communists, but together they too are one MP short of a majority. A coalition of the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens would be short of a majority too. It would, therefore, need the tacit support of the Communists. Both the Christian Democrats and Greens ruled that out. It seems that a grand coalition of the Civic Democrats and Social Democrats is out of question as well, because the Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolanek and the Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek detest and distrust one another.

According to the Czech Constitution, it is the President who designates the Prime Minister and tasks him with the job of finding majority support in the lower house. The President of the Czech Republic is none other than Vaclav Klaus, who was elected to the job over 3 years ago. Predictably, he chose Mirek Topolanek - Klaus's successor as the leader of the Civic Democrats and the winner of the June election. After months of trying, Topolanek failed to break the deadlock and resigned. He remains as a caretaker Prime Minister, but has no power to carry out his legislative agenda.

The Social Democrats, now the second-most powerful party in Parliament, are the next logical candidates to attempt to form a government. Klaus, however, does not wish to give Paroubek the opportunity. Publicly, Klaus claims that he worries that Paroubek's government would be too unstable. In reality, Klaus worries that Paroubek will succeed in getting one MP from the Green Party or Christian Democrats to switch allegiances. The obvious solution for the country would be to hold an early election. But Paroubek, seeing his party's preferences slipping in recent weeks due to the recently unearthed evidence of corruption committed by the Social Democrats when they were in power, refuses to give early election the necessary parliamentary approval. And so the stalemate continues.

All the while, the Czech economy continues to perform nicely. Unemployment fell from 8.8 percent in August 2005 to 7.8 percent in August 2006, and economic growth is projected to reach 6 percent this year. The continued growth of the economy suggests that the investors perceive the Czech Republic as a safe place for their savings. That is a vote of confidence in the strength of the Czech institutional framework and the progress that the country has made since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It appears that the Czechs can afford to be without government a little while longer.

Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

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1 Comment

more good points about it
Yeah, it shows that the country doesn't even need much of a government. But they'll have to sort that out because otherwise who would there be to enforce the EU , is it 77,000 regulations, or pages of them? But really another good point is that those snobbish europeans won't be able to mock the US again as they did after the last election there. Since then we've not only seen fiascos in czech, but also recently in hungary, and last year in germant too. So they'll never be able to say again that it can only happen in the States. Silly me, of course they'll just ignor their own shorcoming and mock the States anyways, just like they always do.

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