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Interview: Few Winners, More Losers In Czech Elections

Prominent Czech psychiatrist and commentator Cyril Hoschl
Prominent Czech psychiatrist and commentator Cyril Hoschl
Forming a government promises to be a hard task in the Czech Republic following parliamentary elections on October 25-26 that produced no clear winner. The center-left Social Democrats came out on top, but with only 21 percent of the vote, meaning they'll need the support of two more parties to form a stable government. RFE/RL's Kathleen Moore spoke to Cyril Hoschl, a noted Czech psychiatrist and public figure, to ask him for his postelection diagnosis.

RFE/RL: Who do you consider the election's biggest winners and losers?

Cyril Hoschl: It's true that there are no real victors here, what you see are losses mostly by the established parties. For the Social Democrats it's basically a loss, for the [center-right Civic Democratic Party] ODS it's a catastrophic loss. It's disappointing obviously for the Greens that they didn't get back into parliament.

The biggest victory from the point of relative power balance and the fact that it's a new protest party, probably goes to Andrej Babis's ANO, because it's taken second place in an election which it entered for the first time as an unknown party with an unclear program, with an unclear spectrum of supporters who have heterogeneous views, and they haven't followed an ideological line that is clear for the population. So it shows that, purely on the basis of [staging] a protest against the establishment, a protest against the current political elite, by defining yourself in negative terms and with good PR led by a professional American firm, it's possible to almost win an election.

As for the losers -- when you look at the expectations, and the fact that their honorary chairman is the President [Milos Zeman] himself, who recently got wide support in the presidential election, the biggest disappointment would be felt by the Party of Citizens' Rights -- Zeman's People (SPOZ), which got negligible support of around 1.5 percent.

The communists had some gains. They have always had between 10 and 14 percent and now they're at the top of that range. So we must consider also that the population of former old communists and their potential supporters among pensioners are getting older and naturally their ranks are thinning out, and yet even so they are getting new blood, which is a noteworthy phenomenon.

RFE/RL: People are disappointed, turned off by the political scene, a new party pops up promising to fix things and does well in an election -- it seems we've been here before with Czech politics. How do you explain it?

Hoschl: One has to realize that the vote someone gives isn't only a vote "for," or an expression of what that person wants or expects but also an expression of what that person doesn't want. So I'll give it to anyone other than the ones I know. That means the chances for the new parties, relatively speaking, grow and because humanity never learns, people again and again fall for the same unfulfillable promises, the same empty hopes and the most important thing is that they have to be spoken to by someone who can talk in a clear, convincing, crisp way and have some charisma. So there's a hunger for charismatic leaders. But the leader is only the carrier of the conviction that things will be better, and that's what people are hankering after.

So there are [several] things meeting here -- distaste for the current political scene, a desire for something new but -- because people are not sure what exactly -- no one offers anything positive, and so it's a case of "I'll give my vote to the person who formulates that the best." And those are the charismatic leaders, especially when they can influence the media, and have access to it, and adverts, etc. So there are several positive circumstances that come together.

The new parties with an unclear program usually end up disrupting the political scene rather than improving it, so we are destined unfortunately to live through this experience over and over, because you can't convince people. Hope dies last so these mistakes happen over and over again.

RFE/RL: Before the elections much was said about this being a battle between left and right, about how there was a risk that the communists would gain a degree of influence they hadn't had in more than 20 years, that the pendulum could swing left. With the strong result of ANO -- a party hard to place on the regular political spectrum -- where is the pendulum right now?

Hoschl: The political pendulum is around the middle, but the pronounced success of ANO has complicated it a bit. It's bad news that we don't have two clear streams like in Germany, or in the U.S., that would allow the pendulum to go from one side to the other and slightly different streams are marginal and the clear trend is this or that way.

The ambivalent nature of a strong political subject like ANO, which has some right-wing policies and some left-wing policies, especially the populist ones, will make it difficult for parliament to reach agreement on important issues because every issue and its solution will be unpredictable because it won't run along any ideological lines but ad hoc, according to what that party thinks is right.

RFE/RL: If you were to have Czech society as a patient, how would you diagnose him?

Hoschl: This would be a question about temperament or judgment. And here [Czech society] doesn't come out too badly. The left and radical left didn't manage to form a majority -- that's the first bit of good news.

Another bit of good news is that concentrated autocratic power didn't get into the hands of the president via SPOZ. That's a significant signal. So, even if the average Czech voter was just [seizing an opportunity] to express his distaste for cooperating with established parties, and in doing so gave a chance and room for newcomers, and even if some of those were populists -- he jumped at the "bait" offered by Usvit (Dawn) and ANO -- that's the lesser evil, I think.

Worse would have been a rise of extremist parties. I consider it a really good bit of news that we haven't see a strengthening of the neo-Nazis and other extremist groups. For the electorate's diagnosis this is quite a positive bit of news.

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