Karel Karika: Czech PM's party avoiding coalition with winning local movement is a "mega-dirty trick"
Two months after the Czech elections to municipal assemblies, new local coalition governments are forming in towns and villages. As news server Romea.cz has reported, there were a total of 13 Romani local assembly members elected nationwide.
How have these new local coalition negotiations turned out for those Romani representatives? Are any of them seated on city councils now?
How many Romani representatives have ended up in opposition locally? News server Romea.cz is now mapping the current positions of these politicians.
The most successful Romani candidate in the country was unequivocally Karel Karika of the PRO! Ústí (FOR! Ústí) movement - from seventh place on the candidate list he made it to a seat at the Ústí nad Labem City Hall. PRO! Ústí ended up in second place there, after the nationally dominant ANO 2011 party, with 16.97 % of the vote.
The PRO! Ústí movement gained nine seats at City Hall. Karika also ran for the leadership of the Ústí nad Labem - město Municipal Department in first place on that candidate list and mainly led PRO! Ústí to electoral victory there.
The movement won 23.6 % of the vote and eight seats in that municipal department, where ANO 2011 came in second with 21.28 % of the vote and the Ústecké fórum občanů - UFO (Ústí Forum of Citizens) came in third, holding just four seats in the municipal department's assembly. Despite this electoral success, however, PRO! Ústí has now ended up in opposition, both at City Hall and in the centrally-located Ústí nad Labem - město Municipal Department.
At City Hall the winning ANO 2011 party has formed a coalition with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the "For Health and Sport" (PRO Zdraví a Sport) movement, and UFO. A similar formation has avoided a coalition with the victorious PRO! Ústí in the central Municipal Department and has sent Karel Karika into opposition.
Q: Despite the fact that your movement ended up in first place in the municipal department and in second place at City Hall, the negotiations on coalition did not turn out as you imagined they might, at either level. The Neštěmice Municipal Department is the only place where the movement is not in opposition. What is your explanation for this outcome?
A: The last four years have convinced me that my greatest fulfillment comes in aiding people and the city where I have been vice-mayor and also interim mayor of the central municipal department for the last two years. Our electoral results were a pleasant confirmation of my feelings when we came in first place in the central municipal department and, compared to the previous elections, won two more local seats there. Citizens come into contact with politicians most frequently at the municipal department level, and that is why their trust means a lot to me. Even though it is common practice that - exactly out of respect for the will of the citizens - the coalition government is put together by the winner, and even though we were preliminarily agreed with ANO to continue our coalition collaboration, it all ended up differently, as you can see. The ANO 2011 movement, with whom we have been leading the central municipal department to date successfully and without conflict, has preferred to associate itself with the UFO movement. The irony is that the people who are members of UFO today are those who, during the previous election cycle, dislodged ANO 2011 from its place as the front runner and led the city into three years of stagnation accompanied by amoral behavior and political cronyism. I really regret this from both a human and a political perspective. [Czech Prime Minister and ANO 2011 chair] Mr Babiš might call this situation a "mega-dirty trick" - unfortunately, politics involves these kinds of situations too.
Q: How did the coalition negotiations in the central municipal department take place with ANO 2011?
A: As far as negotiations in my municipal department go, we were, as I mentioned, already agreed from the beginning of the negotiations on collaboration with ANO 2011 according to the election results, including on staffing posts at the local council - I was to have been mayor and the vice-mayor was to have been from ANO 2011. Unfortunately, 14 days later, after an intervention from the leadership of ANO 2011, all of that changed. Not only were we pushed into opposition, we were not even given the chair of the Audit Committee as the biggest club in opposition.
Q: Why do you believe ANO 2011 and UFO are taking this approach?
A: It's clear that the main reason they are attempting to take over all the posts at the local authority is that they want to bury the PRO! Ústí movement and deter us from working in the opposition. At the same time, they want to keep us out of the information loop so they can do as they please.
Q: From the post of interim mayor of the municipal department you have ended up as a "mere" assembly member despite your electoral success. Did you anticipate such a step backward?
A: To tell you the truth, after the scandals with the residential hotel closures here I believed nobody would vote for me, but the opposite was true. On the other hand, if somebody had told me right after the election that I would end up as a "mere" assembly member, I would have laughed at them. Democracy is about this too, though. What I most regret is the approach being taken by people whom I believed in and considered my friends.
Q: In your opinion, is it a good choice for the city that there be this City Hall coalition between ANO and UFO, which during the campaign used xenophobic rhetoric and spoke of "parasites", which some understod to be a direct assault on Romani people? Do you believe their future coalition had been decided prior to the elections?
A: UFO's campaign was conducted in that populist/xenophobic style, and they also offered a place on their candidate list to a person who is known to be a trafficker in poverty and who read a petition on their behalf to the city assembly rejecting the idea of the city working with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. If, at the beginning of the negotiations, we had known what we know today, we would have behaved absolutely differently. ANO 2011 turns out to have clearly agreed on a coalition with UFO one year before the elections.
Q: Can you describe in more detail what the coalition negotiations at the City Hall level and the municipal department level entailed?
A: The negotiations with the ANO 2011 movement about a coalition began on Saturday, 6 October, before the electoral results were even announced - we were in the park playing petanque. We discussed a broad coalition between ANO, PRO! Ústí, Vaše Ústí (Your Ústí), ODS and the "For Health and Sport" group. However, after 14 days of other negotiations, ANO 2011 announced they were ending their negotiations with us and putting together a coalition with "For Health and Sport", ODS and UFO. This about-face in ANO 2011's approach is a disappointment to us, on a human level. We offered a broad coalition with a high level of expertise and moral credit based on fair representation on the City Council. ANO 2011 preferred this domination through power-sharing with the scandal-ridden UFO, who are suspected of buying votes and are associated with traffickers in poverty - it is because of UFO that the validity of the elections in Ústí has been questioned. We objected at the time to the reasons given by ANO 2011 for this decision, which accused PRO! Ústí of being unable to reach an agreement. We did everything we could to meet the requirements of ANO 2011 that were submitted to us during the negotiations and there were just three points that we rejected: The requirement to create the position of "assembly member at large" for the current Mayor Nechybová, the requirement that we withdraw our nomination for the winner of the election in the Střekov Muncipal Department, Ing. Outlá, for mayor, and the demand that ANO 2011 seat five councilors and PRO! Ústí just three councilors on the 11-member City Council. That demand does not correspond to the election results and creates a dominant position for the ANO 2011 movement on the council. Moreover, that demand was made to us by a mere phone call, as a proposed modification to the original condition of "five councilors for ANO", which we had preliminarily agreed to on the assumption that PRO! Ústí would get four councilors. We never broke any agreements with ANO 2011 and we decidedly are neither internally inconsistent nor unstable in our opinions. We are prepared for our opposition role and we will perform it to benefit all of the city's residents.
Q: As vice-mayor you combated loan-sharking, prostitution and trafficking in poverty. What does Ústí look like today? Will you continue to combat these phenomena in your attempts to improve the situation in your city despite having limited powers as an assembly member?
A: Pushing through any program from an opposition position that is defined as this one is would actually be very difficult. I will just be a kind of watchdog of the coalition - there are absurd measures before us now, such as the proposed total ban on disbursing housing benefits anywhere in the city, as well as an enormous absence of social housing that bothers almost nobody. It is, therefore, necessary for somebody to work for the citizens of the city and to push for the building of new apartment units, or for a plan for such units to be reacquired by the city, because currently the city has no units under its control. Another matter is a participatory budget - the citizens themselves should say how they want to see the budget spent, for example, on their need for benches and children's playgrounds in public spaces. Otherwise, yes, I will still combat exclusion and hatred, both as an activist and as a rank-and-file assembly member. However, during my previous work in the post of vice-mayor I realized it would be good to establish an Ombudsperson for the region with clear powers to be an extension of the Public Defender of Rights, Ms Šabatová.
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