Prague to have a new municipal government after record-long negotiations

Prague to have a new municipal government after record-long negotiations
Pre-fabricated tower blocks on the edge of Prague, where property prices have become unaffordable for many. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera February 6, 2023

A coalition of parties along the model of the Czech national government is poised to rule Prague after record-long negotiations.

The municipal elections took place in late September, but the results meant no party or coalition was in a dominant position to form the Czech capital's leadership and several alternatives were possible.  

Disagreements over the participation of Prague grassroots progressive and anti-corruption party Praha sobe [Praguers for themselves] in the municipal government, and an attempt by the populist ANO of former premier Andrej Babis to form a city hall govenment with the centre-right SPOLU coalition stalled the coalition talks for more than four months.

The future coalition will consist of SPOLU – a centre-right bloc of ODS, TOP 09, and the Christian Democrats – which won the municipal election with 24.72% – the liberal Pirate Party, which came third with 17.72%, and the centre-right grouping of Mayors and independents, which came fifth with 7.76%.

This is the same formation that composes the national government, which won the October 2021 general elections. It means the rightwing ODS party of Prime Minister Petr Fiala returns to lead the Prague municipality, while Praha sobe goes into opposition, alongside ANO and the far-right SPD. 

The Pirates have left the Alliance of Stability with Praha sobe, which they formed after the elections to demonstrate their resolution to keep their current coalition partner in talks over the new government.

“Praha sobe is unfortunately not an acceptable partner for SPOLU, and now neither for the Mayors. That is why there is no other possibility to defend Prague against populists from ANO and extremists from SPD than for the Pirates to enter negotiations [with SPOLU and Mayors] individually”, outgoing Pirate mayor Zdenek Hrib posted on his Facebook profile in January.

The anti-corruption party collected 14.72% but SPOLU's leadership refused to include Praha sobe in the coalition talks after it played a leading role in campaigning against corruption in the traditionally graft-ridden capital. Praha sobe and some of the SPOLU politicians have clashed over the leadership in the city centre district Prague 1, and over the so-called “Dozimetr affair” involving kickbacks at the Prague Transportation Company. 

Police raided several municipal offices and took into custody Deputy Mayor Petr Hlubucek of the Mayors party after tipoffs from whistle-blowers, including Deputy Mayor for Transportation Adam Scheinherr of Praha sobe. The grassroots party  also pointed out that Jiri Pospisil of TOP 09 gave police incorrect information about his contacts with the key figure in the “Dozimetr” scandal – businessman and Mayors party sponsor Michal Redl.

Praha sobe also refused to work with Christian Democratic leader Jan Wolf, who is facing criminal charges in a different investigation over his role in dubious sports subsidies in Prague. Wolf denies any wrongdoing.

Frequent conflicts between SPOLU, Pirate Party and Praha sobe prompted opposition ANO leader Patrik Nacher to repeatedly point out that SPOLU has “more in common” with ANO than with the Pirates and Praha sobe, who he described as “activists”.  

“It is obvious and clear, because we understand each other on the social level and know some [of the politicians] for tens of years,” said Nacher about the municipal relationship between ANO and SPOLU. However, the coalition negotiations between the two was opposed by national politicians who formed SPOLU primarily in opposition against Babis, the oligarchic founder and undisputed leader and funder of ANO.

“Pressure from the [national] five-party coalition was enormous. I had no power to overcome this even though I had the will,” Nacher told Czech Radio on February 3 when it was clear a coalition along the model of the parliamentary one would be formed in Prague.          

Hrib will be succeeded as mayor by SPOLU leader and veteran Prague ODS politician Bohuslav Svoboda, who will be responsible for security, foreign affairs and energy.

Hrib should be the first deputy mayor responsible for transportation. The party will have three other portfolios, including the environment and climate plan, IT and innovations, as well as property, transparency and legislation portfolio, the Czech Press Agency reported.

SPOLU portfolios should include finance and budget, social affairs, housing and health, culture and tourism, as well as infrastructure, while Mayors should be in charge of regional development and in charge of education and sports.   

The agreement may decrease speculation that the Pirate Party could leave the SPOLU-led national government following the end of the Czech EU Presidency at the end of last year. The Pirate Party is in charge of the national foreign affairs portfolio but has repeatedly voiced different views on several issues, including cabinet-backed legislation to protect whistle-blowers, which it views as too weak, or implementation of the windfall tax on profits from high energy prices,  which it wanted to apply in 2022 as well as 2023.

However, the more liberal views of the Pirate Party could also lead to further disagreements with SPOLU politicians in the future Prague coalition over housing and transportation. Housing in Prague has become virtually impossible for ordinary Czechs to afford – with much new development bought up by speculators and city centre housing let out via Airbnb to foreign tourists – but rightwing politicians are reluctant to intervene in the market.  

Hrib is also a known bicycling advocate, while Svoboda represents what commentators describe as the “car-parking” philosophy, which has led to growing problems with traffic and parking in Prague, which still has no congestion zone.   

Svoboda's ODS has also long been connected with deep rooted corruption in the traditionally right-voting capital, which it has led for most of the more than 30 years since the restoration of democracy.