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Vojtěch Lavička: Czech elections 2017 are nothing but bad news for Romani people

23.10.2017 15:09
Vojtěch Lavička
Vojtěch Lavička

The elections to the Czech Chamber of Deputies are behind us and it is time to assess and review. As you certainly are well aware, ANO won the election, which is not a surprise in and of itself.

Political scientists are assessing ANO's victory as unexpectedly overwhelming, but I anticipated it would be this significant. Here in the Czech Republic elections have always been about the leaders of the political parties, and their electoral programs are not essential to voters in the least.

In this respect, ANO's leader Andrej Babiš has no competition. He is "folksier" than Czech President Zeman, "braver" than TOP 09 leader Kalousek, "more pragmatic" than former Czech President Klaus, etc.

In short, people here think he's "the best". The outcome of the elections in every region of the country proves it.

As far as the role of Romani people in these elections, as anticipated it was not at all crucial. Unfortunately, not a single Romani candidate made it into Parliament.

Despite that fact, I would like to thank most of them for being publicly engaged and for putting some "skin in the game". Those whom I am not thanking are Messrs Gožo and Kelt, who ran for extremist parties.

I do not understand their taking that step, I can't get my head around it. I will not even attempt to comprehend it - that is just beyond me.

A record nine political groups eventually made it into the lower house. That makes the situation slightly unpredictable, because there is more than one possible combination of governing coalitions than is healthy.

Understandably, if we were to take the declarations of the politicians seriously, both those made before and after the elections, then no coalition government could arise here at all. All other parties have refused to join an ANO government, across the spectrum, all of them claim they cannot imagine convening a cabinet with a person under criminal prosecution (Babiš), the ANO chair claims he does not want to govern with Okamura, etc.

Do not be fooled by this, all of it is just speechifying forced by the glare of the spotlight. Behind closed doors the negotiations will be absolutely different, and there it will primarily be about what can be bartered for what.

I will now sketch out the darkest possible scenario. Right now everybody - to my mind, quite surprisingly - is actually refusing to govern together with Babiš, from the Christian Democrats to Okamura's SPD.

Is this hard for you to believe? Is it hard to believe Babiš will keep on refusing to govern together with the leader of the SPD?

Then you are right not to believe it. The way is slowly opening up.

Okamura has clearly declared that the SPD wants to govern, allegedly there is no other way for them to advocate for their program - so it's clear that they will eventually assess governing together with Babiš as a "necessary evil". Babiš, for a change, has now already declared more than once that he and the SPD do have some points on their programs in common, with the exception of their differing views of immigrants.

Babiš is also against immigration, of course, but he says he wants it addressed at EU level. If, therefore, they jointly come up with a clever formulation of the Government's program declaration, they will be hand in glove.

If that happens, then the Christian Democrats will certainly join the cabinet, as they have never refused to join any Czech government. They are more than pragmatic, in that respect.

In terms of numbers, such a governing coalition would have 110 seats, more than enough needed to govern. As far as Romani people are concerned, we must be primarily interested in any possible changes to the Constitution, for which 120 votes are needed.

As you are aware, ANO wants to close down both the Regional Assemblies and the Senate, and to do more to support elements of "direct democracy" here. That is what Okamura wants also, and even some of the Pirates want that.

What that would mean is that essential laws would be decided by referendum. In such an eventuality, pack up your most necessary stuff and escape, fast, while you still have the strength.

We well know from history what governing by "The People" means. The darkest example is Hitler, who consolidated his power through constant referendums.

In a situation where 80 % of citizens here have a negative relationship toward Romani people, escape is worth considering. All of this is happening at a moment when all of Europe is radicalizing.

Unfortunately, that variant of a coalition government seems not just the darkest to me, but also the most likely. Babiš was among the first to congratulate Okamura.

I  could be wrong - all of the parties may assess an opportunity for Okamura to be in government as unacceptable. Then a "rainbow government" of many parties could come about.

Truth be told, though, such a government would have difficulty governing effectively. Early elections are another option, which in my opinion would just confirm the dominance of Babiš and allow him to achieve an even better outcome.

Naturally, the criminal charges against him and his possible conviction are in play as well, but I suspect that will also turn out to his advantage. In any event what awaits us here are "interesting times", as Terry Pratchett's bestseller has it.

Vojtěch Lavička, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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