Four days ahead of Czech parliamentary elections, a giant middle-finger salute directed at Prague Castle – seat of the head of state – appeared on October 21. The sculpture appears a protest both at the cynicism of Czech politics, and the efforts of President Milos Zeman to leverage the disillusionment within the country to increase his power. At ten metres tall, the purple finger – mounted on a barge floating on the Vltava River which weaves through the capital – leaves little room for interpretation. Artist David Cerny refused to discuss the work, except to say that the gesture is well-known and clear. More important, he told state broadcaster CTK, is the direction in which it is facing. Zeman is not currently in the country and through a spokesperson said that he did not want to comment on something he has not seen. The election on October 25-26 follows the collapse of the previous centre-right coalition amid a corruption and spying scandal. The left-leaning Zeman, who took office in March, exploited loopholes in the constitution to install a “caretaker” government, despite objections from all the major parties. Many have likened the move to a “quiet coup” by the president.
The Social Democrats (CSSD) – which Zeman led as prime minister at the turn of the century – is set to win the most seats in the election. However, forming a governing coalition looks like it will be a challenge, and the support of the Communist Party (KSCM) in one form or another will almost certainly be needed. Should that happen, it would be the first involvement of the communists in government – albeit likely in an informal role – since the Velvet Revolution ousted the regime in 1989.
At the same time, the rule of the caretaker government has given Zeman the time to reinforce his position within the CSSD. The president has the power to appoint the new PM following the vote, and few expect CSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka to get the nod without a fight. A party carrying the president’s name – SPOZ – looks unlikely to make it past the 5% threshold needed to take up parliamentary seats.
That leaves polls predicting that even joining with the communists may not secure the CSSD power. Weary of corruption, poor governance and the harsh austerity imposed by the last administration, protest votes look to be propelling Ano 2011, a new party established by billionaire Andrej Babis, into the role of kingmaker. Fearing instability and Ano 2011’s lack of a political programme, every major party has said they won’t work with Babis. However, they may have little choice.