Czech Social Dems say "yes" to coalition government with Ano, but hurdles remain

Czech Social Dems say
Jan Hamacek (second left) and other CSSD leaders announce the results of their party's referendum on joining Ano in government.
By Jaroslav Hroch in Prague June 18, 2018

The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) approved forming a coalition government with the populist centrist party Ano of Prime Minister-designate Andrej Babis by a 58.53% majority in an intra-party referendum, the CSSD said on June 15. The new government will also need the tolerance of the Communist party (KSCM).

Babis introduced his proposed cabinet to Zeman on Sunday, as Czechia came one step closer to having a fully-fledged government, not seen since the October 2017 election. However, President Milos Zeman says he will refuse to appoint the man the CSSD put forward as foreign minister, Miroslav Poche, who he claims is questioning Czechia's pro-Israeli policy and stance opposing EU migration quotas.

Czech media speculate that Zeman is either taking revenge against Poche for having endorsed his rival Jiri Drahos in the presidential election in January 2018 or that Zeman wants a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese puppet to head the ministry instead of a pro-EU, pro-Western minister.

Babis, meeting his CSSD counterpart Jan Hamacek on Saturday, told the CSSD leader that he should withdraw Poche from consideration as foreign minister. The Communists, in line with Zeman, also reject Poche. But Hamacek thus far is insisting on his selection of candidate. “[By changing the selection] I would betray the programme and stances that I presented many times during the referendum [which took place over six weeks]. I am definitely not thinking about it,” he said.

The question is how much influence Zeman will have on the government and to what extent Babis is willing to collaborate with the president and the Communists.

Zeman distracted from the serious political issues besetting his country on June 14 when he staged a bizarre press event at which he set alight a pair of huge red underpants that the protest group Ztohoven had raised over Prague Castle, where the presidential standard usually flies, back in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Communists say they are ready to support his government if seven basic policy points are included in the programme declaration of the government. These include for example a law on public referendums, a taxation of church restitution (returning the property stolen, ironically, during the Communist dictatorship) and increasing the minimum wage.

The KSCM central committee should meet in ten days to decide, definitively, whether the party will support the Ano-CSSD government.

A confidence vote in the lower house of parliament could then occur on July 11, said Babis, who is under investigation for fraud relating to EU funds — the main reservation expressed by those CSSD members who didn’t want their party to form a coalition with Ano. 

Ano support ebbs

Earlier in June, the latest opinion poll conducted by the Kantar agency showed decreasing support for Ano. “This means 3 percentage points (pp) since April and 6 pp since February, when the preferences were at a maximum. The support of 27% is the lowest in the last two years,” said Kantar TNS analyst Pavel Ranocha.

The opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) are getting stronger (polling at 16%), the third-placed Pirate Party is at 14.5%, the fourth-placed far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party at 9% and the KSCM and CSSD stable at around 7%.

Some commentators interpreted the poll as showing Ano is losing the ground for failing to deliver on its promises. However, it would be preliminary to talk about the fall of Ano. Another poll, conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CVVM) in early June, showed stable support for Ano at 29%.