Czech parties fighting over finances but compromise seen

Czech political parties seem far apart on moves to discipline campaign spending, but main opposition ČSSD head thinks deal can be done

Chris Johnstone 6.10.2011

Bohuslav Sobotka zvítězil až ve druhém kole volby. foto: ILUSTRAČeská pozice

Bohuslav Sobotka zvítězil až ve druhém kole volby.

Czech political parties still appear far apart on how to reform party and campaign funding, judging from their contributions at a Prague conference on the issue held on Thursday. But the head of the main opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD), Bohuslav Sobotka, still believes the differences can be overcome.

“I think that we can come to a compromise by the end of the year,” Sobotka told Czech Position. His own conference contribution underlined his party’s main differences with the three-way center-right coalition with the ČSSD backing limits on party spending during election campaigns and donations from individuals and companies.

‘I think that we can come to a compromise by the end of the year.’

Civic Democrat (ODS) Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil described election campaign limits as a brake on competition between political parties, adding that in the Czech context ways around any such limits would probably be found in the form of so-called “black accounts.”

TOP 09 deputy chairman Marek Ženíšek, , a deputy minister at the Ministry of Justice, differed slightly by saying that a voluntary deal between parties could complement whatever is passed by law. He also repeated his center-right party’s pre-2010 for a radical cut in state support for political parties, saying it was not likely to make them more dependent on non-transparent donations from sponsors or businesses seeking favors in return.

Deputy Prime Minister and deputy chairman of the Public Affairs (VV) party Karolína Peake said only legislation would convince Czechs that real steps were being taken to change the current system.

Christian Democrat party leader (KDU-ČSL) Pavel Bělobrádek, said his indebted party relied on state support for around 85 percent of its finances and a cuts in that support would have a drastic impact. The party hoped to pay around Kč 13 million of its total Kč 40 million debt this year, he added.

The KDU-ČSL failed to win a single seat in the lower house during 2010 elections with Bělobrádek bemoaning the fact that the odds were now stacked up against in as regards trying to get its message across to the public. He complained that he had not been invited onto one TV political discussion program since being elected party leader in November 2010.

‘We believe that all their proposals at the moment are inadequate.’

Green Party (SZ) leader Ondrej Liška said only it and TOP 09 currently came clean about party financing at the moment by revealing all their income and spending. He criticized other parties for their willingness to only seriously talk about reforms to campaign or election funding and not deal with the issue of party funding as well. “We believe that all their proposals at the moment are inadequate. You have to deal with campaign funding as a whole,” Liška said.

The Ministry of Interior has drawn up a proposal to reform campaign and party funding that includes the option of new body being created to police party and campaign funding and spending. VV’s Peake said the legislation should take effect on Jan 1, 2013, ahead of the next lower house elections in 2010. “We all want reform, but not everyone wants the same reform. All the same we have to agree,” she said.  

The well-attended conference was organized by the non-profit Center for a Social-Market Economy and Open Democracy (CESTA). Some members of the public expressed doubts whether they and the politicians lived in the same country. “I think that you are living in a different world,”one said. “I am sorry that I use the terms ‘you’ and ‘we,’ that was what I felt 20 years ago,” he said, referring to the widespread disillusion and distancing between ordinary citizens and the party elite of the then ruling Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ).