Petr Fiala will almost certainly be sworn in soon as the new prime minister of the Czech Republic, and his centre-right coalition government promises rapid change.
Fiala, a former historian and rector of the university, led his electoral alliance in SPOLU to victory In the legislative elections held in early OctoberWin the popular vote and get 71 seats in Parliament.
SPOLU and the PirStan Alliance, which had 37 seats, agreed to an informal coalition government arrangement. Last week, President Milos Zeman invited Fiala to start formal talks with his coalition partners on the formation of the new government.
The next day, outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Babis sent his letter of resignation to the president, although he requested that he remain in power until the new Villa government takes over. Zeman must now approve Viala’s ministerial choices – which could delay proceedings because Zeman has a history of rejecting ministerial choices – and then get Parliament’s approval, a guarantee that gives a majority in Parliament.
Before the legislative elections, it was widely suspected that Zeman might try to allow Papis to remain as prime minister whatever the outcome, but those alleged plans were thwarted when Zeman was taken to hospital the day after the polling. He was released from intensive care last week.
What’s on the Top of an Elephant Food Can?
“We need to solve the problems that are bothering people as quickly as possible, and lead the country out of the many crises it has been experiencing – health, economic, and a crisis of values,” Fiala was quoted as saying.
Depending on how long the transfer of power takes, the Fayala government may take over after the worst wave in the latest wave of COVID-19 infections.
The rate of new infections in the Czech Republic in 14 days per 100,000 people was 820 in the week ending November 7, the highest rate since March.
The Fiala government will also inherit the major issues related to the vaccination campaign, with only 60.3% of the population being fully vaccinated and the number of people applying for vaccinations falling in recent weeks.
But Lubomir Kopecek, a professor of political science at Masaryk University, says that in terms of policies, Viala’s “number one priority” will be state finances. He added, “In the era of Babis, the national debt has begun to rise sharply and the public budget is in great trouble.”
In August, the country’s top audit office indicated that the Czech national debt was the fourth lowest in the European Union by the end of 2020, at 37.7% of GDP. However, it rose 7.7% year-on-year and crossed CZK 2 trillion (€79.5 billion) for the first time. The audit office found that at current spending rates, the country’s national debt will grow at the second fastest rate in the European Union over the coming years.
Babes’ government raised the state budget deficit limit three times during the pandemic, up to the final figure of CZK 500 billion (about €20 billion). The same deficit in 2020 reached a record 14.5 billion euros. It is expected to be much higher by the end of 2021.
Fiala said his government will try to rewrite the 2022 budget, which Babes’ outgoing government decided to cut the deficit below CZK 300 billion (12 billion euros) next year. It is currently scheduled to be around 15 billion euros.
This will be done primarily by reducing government spending, and cutting or reformulating many investment projects. But Fayala’s prospective government has also pledged tax cuts in some areas, and its traditional economic policies of the wealthy centre-right are expected to mollify, compared to the increasingly leftist agenda the Babis government has pursued in recent years.
In an interview this week with Czech media, Fiala stressed that his government would only be able to properly correct state finances in the 2023 budget.
Philip Kostelka, a lecturer at the University of Essex, said another important improvement would be in the rule of law. Since billionaire Babes was elected prime minister in 2017, he has been dogged by accusations of corruption, mostly due to the alleged abuse of power in favor of the sprawling Agrofert conglomerate.
Earlier this year, a European Commission review found that Babis was in a conflict of interest over subsidies the EU receives from Agrofert. Domestic investigations are still ongoing as well, although they were allegedly hampered during Papis’ premiership.
“Under Fiala, the judiciary and police authorities will likely be given more time and space to investigate the scandals and alleged wrongdoing by members of the outgoing government and Babis himself,” Kostelka said.
On foreign policy, both the SPOLU and PirStan coalitions have campaigned on a pro-Western agenda, vowing to strengthen ties with Brussels and Washington. Viala pledged to increase Czech contributions to NATO up to 2% of GDP by 2025
The Foreign Ministry is believed to be kept by the Progressive Pirate Party, which will likely see a bigger swing against China and Russia, whose attempts to gain greater influence in the Czech Republic in recent years, led by Zeman, have been a source of controversy. .
However, one potential obstacle for the prospective Villala government may be the European Union. The largest of the five parties, the Civic Democratic Fiala (ODS), has long been skeptical of the EU, but many other parties, including the Pirate Party, are staunchly pro-Brussels.
To thwart any conflict, the incoming 18-member government will fill three new positions including one on EU affairs, the position likely to be taken by a politician of mayors and independents (Stan). The Czech Republic will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union in July 2022.
“The new alliance may not push for the introduction of the euro in the Czech Republic, but the perception of the Czech Republic will improve compared to Babes’ premiership. The differences associated with Babis will disappear,” Kubišek said.
Villa hinted that his government would also address cultural issues and spoke of a “crisis of values” in Czech society. Kubicek said that with the prospective government made up mostly of conservative politicians, liberal causes such as same-sex marriage are unlikely to be supported, yet there is no danger that they will go the Polish route on topics such as abortion, which is unrelated to the Czech Republic.
But one of the biggest changes analysts expected from Villala’s government would be in tone and mood.
“With regard to the management of the Czech Republic, the main differences will be the change of style and presentation, not least because of the style of the Professor at Viala,” said Shaun Hanley, Associate Professor of Central and Eastern European Politics at University College London.
Who is Peter Viala?
Fiala, 57, has some experience in government, having previously worked as Minister of Education, Youth and Sports. But most of his career was spent as an intellectual, rising in academia to become Dean of Masaryk University, one of the most prestigious universities in the Czech Republic.
Raised in a conservative Catholic family in Brno, Fiala first plunged into politics when he was appointed chief science aide to Prime Minister Peter Nikas in 2011, before quickly rising to the position of minister the following year.
In the 2013 general election, he won a seat in the House of Representatives as an independent, but within a month of the ballot, he switched his allegiance to the ODS, the traditional center-right party that suffered one of its worst electoral results in history and finished fifth with just 7.7% of the vote.
In 2014, Fiala ran for the party presidency, winning the internal ballot with ease. In the next legislative elections, in 2017, the Social Democratic Party took second place, almost doubling its number of votes compared to the previous ballot. But Fiala refused to enter into an alliance with Babis, forcing the NDP to put up with the opposition for the past five years.
He is “a non-controversial figure who is also a relatively capable mediator, which is important for maintaining the unity of the new government,” Kubicek said.
By comparison, Babis was a billionaire businessman before entering politics, and has masterminded a move away from the country’s two traditional parties, Fiala’s Democratic Democratic Party and the centre-left Social Democrats, over the past decade.
Babes vowed to run government like business, which often led to a harsh, caustic approach to debate. Meanwhile, Fiala is widely seen as a soft talker who prefers consensus over conflict.
what happened after that?
Doubt remains as to when exactly Villa will be appointed as prime minister. He told Czech media that it should take “weeks”.
For now, civility appears to be returning to Czech politics after weeks of post-election anxiety over whether Zeman’s ill health means he can continue as president, and whether he will try to keep Papis as prime minister, many analysts believe.
The Senate has now agreed to suspend its plans to invoke Article 66 of the Constitution, which would temporarily strip the president of his powers. The newly elected House of Representatives resumed on Monday for a constituent session.
On the other hand, Villala will take over his premiership with momentum behind him. There is a great deal of relief in the country that Babis’ post-election deception did not go as claimed, and that Zeeman’s ill health did not result in a constitutional crisis.
The five parties in Villa’s prospective government control 108 seats in the 200-seat House of Representatives, a larger share than some previous governments. It also has strong support in the Senate, where Fiala’s SPD is the largest and controls the chamber’s presidency.
However, Babis hasn’t disappeared from politics — nor the specter of populism, either. Babis’ ANO party holds 72 seats in parliament, the largest of any single party, and is likely to find cooperation with the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD), which has 20, in opposing the Philae government’s actions.
Babis still controls a majority stake in several leading Czech newspapers and media outlets, which analysts expect to take a critical look at the attempt at Villala’s reforms.
It is widely suspected that Babes will also try to run for president with elections due by January 2023, but that could be much sooner due to Zeman’s poor health.
Babis indeed appears to have positioned himself as the contender for the left and populist, as well as the vote of voters who chose parties that did not cross the 5% threshold needed to enter Parliament. About 19.6% of the vote went to parties that did not win seats, compared to just 6.2% in the 2017 elections.
The Social Democrats, who were the junior partner in the outgoing Babis government, failed to win any seats in Parliament for the first time in Czech history. So did the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which unofficially supported Papis’ government in Parliament.
“Those of you who voted for the Social Democrats, the Communists or the Oath, to all of you who voted and your parties did not enter the House of Representatives, I want to say that your votes did not fail. I am here for you,” said Babis shortly after the election results were announced last month.
If Papis can serve as the defender of the political left, especially since the center-right Fiala government is expected to oversee lower government spending and tax cuts, he is likely to be the frontrunner for the next president, a position that assumed more interventionist powers under Zeman. Since 2013.
“If the new government pushes its fiscal policies too far in the conservative direction, it could lead to a popular backlash and lead to populist retaliation in the upcoming legislative elections as well as the presidential elections,” Kostelka said.
“By a stroke of luck and thanks to the mobilization of civil society, the Czech liberal democracy won a battle in 2021, but the war with populism and authoritarianism is far from over,” Kostelka added.