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Sabina Slonková has another scoop today, and a pretty big one. First, a bit of backstory: The Czech parliament is in deadlock, with both leftist and right-of-center coalitions even with 100 votes each. But yesterday one MP, Michal Pohanka, decided to leave the Social Democrats, which leave them one vote short of 50 %.

The question is, though, whether this MP is caught up in what is being called the BudiÅ¡ov scandal, which involves the misappropriation of EU funds by a gang of well-connected political insiders from the top echelons of the Social Democrats. In the interview he says it’s all being made up.
Last week I translated another of Sabina Slonková’s stories on the topic, and this one was too big to ignore too. As usual, the translation is mine. It’s a pretty quick translation, so feel free to leave any corrections in the comments.


Pohanka: I will request police protection

17:45 | 25.10.2006

Sabina Slonková

Prague – MP Michal Pohanka, who today left ČSSD, argues that he was under strong pressure to do so. In an exclusive interview for Aktuálně.cz, he also said that he is considering a request for police protection.

Michal Pohanka is insisting that the Social Democrats themselves wanted to get rid of him, and that the request was translated by the head of the ČSSD parliamentary club, Michal Hašek.

Pohanka is now hiding in an unknown location. He has shut off mobile telephones and not even his former party colleagues are in touch with him. Despite this, the Aktuálně.cz newsroom managed to connect with him with the help of an intermediary. After the interview was over, Pohanka called back: While he at first considered requesting police protection in the afternoon, by the evening he pulled back from doing so.

We now bring you a unique interview.

“It started even before Nova broadcast the report where they talked about me. We had some meeting in the zoo, where Michal Hašek spoke with me and told me I should give up my [parliamentary] mandate. When I told him I would not do it, he started talking like: Do what you want. The police will now be after you and you’re going to have a very hard time. As if some kind of war was going on,” Pohanka said.

Aktualně.cz: But Michal Hašek denies your version and argues that nobody called on you to leave?

He’s not telling the truth.

There were a total of two conversations on the same day. At the second, even chairman Paroubek was there. Hašek told him that I don’t want to give up my mandate and Paroubek only shrugged his shoulders. He more or less didn’t comment any more. Then I remained alone with this problem and waited for what would come.

AKTUALNE.CZ: And that’s all that led to your leaving the party?

Then a lot of strange things started happening around me. It was recommended that I not speak to anyone because my telephone would be tapped.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Who recommended this to you?

It was all from the side of my colleague, Hašek. I had the feeling that he was the moving force. Or someone entrusted him to do it. When you have communicated with these people as long as I have with Hašek, who I know several years, his behavior seems absurd. It seemed to me that they wanted to apply a presumption of guilt, even if elsewhere they would have acted differently.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Your friends argue that someone has followed your coworkers and destroyed your office. Is that true?

That’s what I’m talking about when I say that strange things have started to happen. Maybe I’m paranoid, but to be sure I’m going to request police protection. When the same people keep moving around you, it’s probably not completely normal. And when they start to appear around those close to you, it logically unnerves you.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Are you afraid?

To a certain extent yes, because you don’t go through this kind of situation every day.

AKTUALNE.CZ: At Lidový dům (the Social Democrats’ headquarters), voices can be heard saying you’re under pressure from the police. Isn‘t it the police who are following you?

I’ve also heard that too, but it’s absolute nonsense. If I’m under any pressure, I feel it from ČSSD, not from the police. Nothing like that is true.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Thanks to you, the leftists have lost their parity in parliament. Do you now know how you will vote if ODS forms another government – or a cabinet leading the country to early elections were to emerge?

I’m going to consider my position further. Now that I’ve left ČSSD, I’m going to consider my own opinion and not be led by opinions that are given to me by some party. Now I’m in the position of an independent MP.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Has any politician contacted you with an offer to switch sides?

No, I’ve shut off all my telephones.

AKTUALNE.CZ: Your move, which evidently surprised ÄŒSSD, comes at a time when you can seriously influence the form of a future government. Did you consult with someone in ODS or another party about your approach?

No. With noone. It was my personal decision, which was ripening inside me for a long time. I considered it even before the local elections, but I didn’t want to harm my colleagues’ campaign.

AKTUALNE.CZ: So in the end you decided to leave between the first and second rounds of senate elections…

I originally wanted to wait more, but these strange things started to shift somewhere and I couldn’t wait any more. The situation simply became ripe.

AKTUALNE.CZ: If what you describe didn’t happen, would you have left the party?

No. I didn’t have any strong disputes with anyone from ČSSD. I’ve let it be know n that I don’t like this confrontational style of politics, but it wasn’t acute.

AKTUALNE.CZ: So it’s not that the ČSSD leadership knew you were the weak link that could “switch sides” and wanted to prevent you from doing so by forcing you to give up your mandate?

That’s definitely not it. I see this instead as an internal struggle inside ČSSD.

AKTUALNE.CZ: You’re hiding in seclusion and considering protection… How do you want to continue like this?

We’ll see how long it will last. I believe that after senate elections I will normally return to my work.

Even though I’m far from over my jet lag, I’m in beautiful Amsterdam this week for meetings related to our LiveSupport software for radio stations.
“What is LiveSupport?” you may ask. Well, it’s software that my colleagues and I have created that lets you create an entire radio station from within your PC. All you need is a transmitter (or a streaming server) and maybe a mixing board and microphone. And it’s free and open source. Check it out at http://livesupport.campware.org.

The other thing I’ll be doing here is taking part in the ‘Expression Under Repression’ conference on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the other participants, including Hossein Derakshan, otherwise known as Hoder, the groundbreaking blogger from Iran. I’ve admired him for quite some time, and hope the event isn’t too packed that I can’t say hello to him.

Connectivity permitting, I’ll also try to keep my eye on efforts to form the next Czech government. Looks like this one will be down to the wire, but reading MF Dnes on the plane this morning, I had the impression that despite Paroubek’s weird outburst, he’ll probably cut a deal with ODS, allowing them to form the next government. But you never know…

The day’s news started out odd and seems to be getting odder. After counting all parliamentary mandates total deadlock has emerged, in both leftist and rightist coalitions have 100 votes each of 200.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the offices of any of the political party leaders… Then again, after the revelations of wiretap abuses in the National Security Authority earlier this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are several flies on the wall already. Here’s my translation of this article from tonight’s iDNES.cz:
ÄŒSSD Chairman Paroubek recommended that his party go into opposition. His proposal, presented in a debate of party leaders on Czech TV, was presented at an afternoon meeting of his party’s political leadership. But even after it, it isn’t clear what the party will do. ODS leader Topolánek said on television that he wants to meet with the Social Democrats about the [next] government.
“I will fully push for this (exit into opposition) with my modest powers,” the prime minister announced on the program ‘Václav Moravec’s Questions’.
How the party accepted Paroubek’s proposal wasn’t clear even after the afternoon meeting of the party’s political leadership and regional chiefs. Paroubek only said that participants accepted his analysis of the current situation and the proposed ways out.
“We are aware that Mssrs. Topolánek, Karousek and Bursík are meeting about a new government. If a center-right government emerges, we will go into opposition. That possibility is here,” the ÄŒSSD chief said.
After the debate on Czech TV, he did not rule out even the possibility of forming a government under Social Democratic leadership. “It’s now Mr. Topolánek’s turn to try. So let him show what he knows,” he said.
Victory belongs to ODS, the Prime Minister admitted
He added that the fact that ODS was the elections’ winner was undoubtable. The question according to him is whether it happened in a clean fight. “I recognize ODS’ victory. I only have a problem with congratulating them on this victory because the election campaign was conducted unfairly in its last week,” Paroubek explained.
He also confirmed that the party is continuing to consider the possibility of filing a complaint about the elections to the Supreme Court. That certainly won’t be immediate. “Last week I filed criminal charges against Topolánek and Mr. Kubic. We would file a complaint if it is confirmed that a criminal act took place,” Jiří Paroubek said.
Paroubek added that an election complaint can be filed as late as six months after teh fact, and not only within ten days, as was heard on Saturday. According to the Josef Baxa, the chairman of the Supreme Legal Court, this is not true.
“By law the Social Democrats must wait until the official announcement of election results, which is expected on Tuesday. Then they have 10 days to file charges. The Supreme Legal Court then must decide within 20 days,” Baxa explained to ÄŒTK.Topolánek: We will also meet with ÄŒSSD
Even before the debate, the prime minister said it is not up to him to find a solution to a disputed situation. “According to Mr. President [Klaus], that will have to be found by someone else who can show his abilities,” he said.
Mirek Topolánek announced that he takes his task of forming a new government very seriously. If I am not successful, I will resign as chairman of the party,” he promised. “We will urge the meeting team, I will discuss this with the President, and I will not rule out even the Social Democrats. The main thing is that we we solve the situation,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Jakl said that Václav Klaus will not entrust Topolánek with forming a goverment. He will only start post-election meetings and further steps will start to get clearer,” Jakl said on a discussion on TV Prima.

ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Nečas on Monday on ÄŒRo1-Radiožurnál announced that if ÄŒSSD as a whole stands behind Paroubek’s casting of doubt on the elections, a grand coalition, for example, is essentially ruled out.

Bursík: Opposition is necessary
Leaders of parliamentary parties again rejected the Communists’ proposal for a government of national unity in which all parliamentary parties would be represented.
“For every nation it is good to have an opposition. It is important because of checks on the government. This especially for the Czech Republic, where there is a high amount of clientelism and corruption. A government of national unity would be a government where franchises are divided, and that is for us unthinkable, explained Green Party Chairman Martin Bursík.

Representatives of ODS, KDU-ÄŒSL and the Greens have previously said that any cooperation with the communists will not be considered.

Paroubek: Topolánek should meet with KSČM as well
According to Jiří Paroubek, Mirek Topolánek as the erstwhile winner of the elections, should debate with all, meaning with the Communists as well. “Our policy isn’t founded on cheap anti-Communism, but on principles of freedom and democracy, so we will of course not meet with the Communists,” the ODS leader said.
“At this time I can’t imagine it. Not even for a single moment,” the prime minister said when asked the question of whether ÄŒSSD would support Topolánek’s government. He added that it depends on which program announcements the Civic Democrats would come with.
Kalousek: Svoboda wanted to apologize for his own lack of success
KDU-ÄŒSL Chairman Miroslav Kalousek refused to answer the question of whether he would step down due to a lack of success in the elections. On Saturday he was called on to do so indirectly by Deputy Chairman Cyril Svoboda.

“It is now our responsibility to meet on the future of the Czech Republic. Nobody can expect us to resolve internal party questions,” Kalousek said. He marked Cyril Svoboda’s comments as amusing. “The foreign minister failed to make five percent in Prague. I understand that he would need to apologize somehow,” Kalousek said.

KSÄŒM leader VojtÄ›ch Filip said he offered his post to the party’s central committee, but it refused his resignation.
Leaders refused to draw MPs over
All leaders agreed that they were convinced of their parliamentary clubs’ unity. They ruled out MPs’ crossing over to other political parties as a possible solution to the deadlocked situation.
“I can guarantee that the club I have in the Parliament is a solid team, Martin Bursík announced. “I don’t doubt that ODS will try it, but I don’t expect that the entire club would act un-self-preserving, Jiří Paroubek opined.

Czech Prime Minister Paroubek’s comments at his press conference point out a fundamental truth; there seems to be some difference between the exit polls and the actual vote. In short, it may turn out that the Social Democrats and the Communists together will have 101 votes – a one-vote majority – in parliament.

Aktualne.cz writes that the next government may be either a caretaker government or a leftist one. The caretaker government may occur if there is a 100:100 stalemate in the parliament; ODS would support this caretaker government until new elections could be held.

I arrived back in Prague from San Francisco this afternoon right as the first exit polls were released, showing that ODS was going to win the Czech general election. The official results aren’t in yet, but it looks like this is the end of the Social Democrats’ reign.

According to aktualne.cz, the preliminary results are as follows:

  • ODS – 35.9 %
  • CSSD – 32.4 %
  • KSCM – 12.8 %
  • KDU-CSL – 7.2 %
  • Greens – 6.3%

It’s now after 9pm and I’ve just watched Prime Minister Paroubek just had his press conference. He was _pissed off_ and threatened to have the election results challenged because of ODS’ negative campaign. He also openly said that the leftist parties – CSSD and the Communists – together have a majority 101 votes in parliament, and that a possible coalition of ODS, the Greens and KDU-CSL would only have 100 votes.

Paroubek’s press conference had the tone of a temper tantrum. He basically confirmed one of the things most Czechs either openly or quietly feared: that he would let the Communists into the government.

Here’s my translation of this article from Aktualne.cz tonight:

Paroubek doesn’t recognize election results, threatens lawsuit

Prague – In an unprecedentedly-sharp speech, Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek evaluated ÄŒSSD’s election results.
Jiří Paroubek announced that the Social Democrats are considering the possibility of legal action to confirm whether the elections were fair.

He wants to turn to the Supreme Court over how his competitors ran their campaigns.
‘Blue totalitarianism,’ liars and hate – the vocabulary Paroubek used, brought the Czech Republic back to the days of the toughest pre-election duels.

Paroubek feels like the winner, and announced that the leftists together have 101 mandates and that Topolánek, the ODS chairman, will not be able to form a majority coalition. He especially announced this to President Václav Klaus, who only a half-hour before marked the Civic Democrats [ODS] as the number one in the elections, and on Monday wants to meet with their leader, Topolánek, for post-election meetings.

Who is responsible for this?

The ÄŒSSD leader sees the media in ODS’ camp, liars among the police and criminals as the culprits in the post-election situation.

“I would normally congratulate the victor, but I’m not going to do that,” Paroubek announced and then praised his own economic policy.

“ODS mobilized its sources and in cooperation with the media unleashed a hateful campaign. When even that wasn’t enough, they reached for malicious gossip and techniques used before November 1989,” he literally said.

At the same time he mentioned similar techniques, he also deviated: He announced that the leader of ODS’ parliamentary club, Vlastimil Tlustý, knew the murdered underworld boss and businessman FrantiÅ¡ek Mrázek well.

“ODS themselves covered up the fact that their politicians – for example Vlastimil Tlustý – demonstrably met with the businessman Mrázek. In short, ODS and certain branches of the Czech police have clearly come under the tow of the gray economy.

Tlustý shortly after countered with an announcement that he will file a lawsuit against Paroubek. “I have never seen him, never met with him. It is a lie,” Tlustý told AktuálnÄ›.cz.ODS, in reaction to Jiří Paroubek, announced that this is simply about the prime minister’s inability to admit defeat. “And also the unwillingness to let the police investigate this government’s corruption scandals,” deputy chairman Petr Nečas announced.

He marked Paroubek’s speech as undemocratic: “It was the speech of a pre-1989 functionary. I think that at this time any party will have a problem sitting down at the meeting table with such a party to resolve the next government.

The Prime Minister did not respond to this. Immediately after his speech he quickly went out of reach of journalists; he did not allow any further questions. And neither did any of the ÄŒSSD leadership. Deputy Chairman Bohuslav Sobotka behind his back added: “No questions. That is all. The end.”

For a few weeks now, there have been odd purple posters put up all over town with slogans like “It’s legal to die,” “It’s legal to vote,” or my personal favorite, “It’s legal to be a loser.” On one over near Letna, someone wrote, “yeah, but it isn’t very nice.”

But it turns out that these were the first moves in the relaunch of the Unie Svobody (Freedom Union), the right of center party that is still in the governing coalition along with the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats.

With a campaign that looks like it was put together maybe by anarchists, maybe by people who went to CzechTek, but certainly not by a member of the governing coalition, the party has launched its new website today, at www.its-legal.us.

The party has sought to relaunch itself along the lines of the Libertarian party in the US, or maybe one of the continent’s “liberal” parties. One of the odder things about the site is that its slogans are all in English. Granted, it’s English that most of the people they’re trying to reach can speak, but it’s still English.

As an aside, the term “liberal” in Europe tends to mean almost the exact opposite of what it does in the US – low (or lower) taxes, small (or smaller) government, for privatization of state industries, and generally for the state to get out of peoples’ lives.

If I recall correctly, Unie Svobody currently hold three two ministerial seats (Justice, Foreign and IT), and they’re not doing very well in the polls. So their gambit is to bet on a relatively unknown and untested demographic: Let’s call them, for lack of a better name, the Roxycrats. They smoke dope every now and then, they support gay rights, they’re mad as hell about CzechTek, and they might even support larger reforms.

UPDATED 29 April 2006: Petr B. of the Daily Czech points out that the Foreign Ministry is held by the Christian Democrats, and is occupied by Cyril Svoboda.

Tonight at the gym I go to, I heard a couple of people talking about the new site. One woman who was maybe 20 thought it was a cynical attempt to restart a failed party. But one man who was around 25 thought it was pretty cool, and said he’d vote for Unie Svobody.

Earlier today, Justice Minister Pavel NÄ›mec (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Saturday Night Live’s Jimmy Fallon), said of his party’s stand in support of the decriminalization of marijuana that if they can find 250,000 voters who feel the same about legalization, the party will do fine.

But the trouble is that if the US is any example, campaigns that bet on the youth vote – from Eugene McCarthy in the 1970s to Howard Dean in 2004 – inevitably fizzle because young people don’t vote. They’ve got other things to do, whereas grumpy old pensioners show up consistently.

Out here, the grumpy old pensioners vote either Communist or Christian Democrat, depending on how they feel about the Man Upstairs. But they will turn out, as sure as Karel Gott will win the Slavík award for the umpteenth time.

One of the big drawbacks of having an election in June in the Czech Republic is that the weather is usually good, and most young people – the voters Unie Svobody desperately needs to stay alive – will probably just blow it off. And then they’ll light up a joint and bitch about how none of the politicians that get elected actually stand for what they want.