On 20 August Czech Members of Parliament voted to dissolve the lower house of parliament, after three months of political deadlock and crisis in the wake of a corruption scandal that forced former Prime Minister Petr Nečas to resign in June. There will be new elections in October.
All parties now have a chance to outline for voters how they will strengthen the country’s governing institutions and continue the fight against corruption. The first challenge for politicians contesting the next election, however, will be how to restore public confidence in politics.
Czech citizens are deeply distrustful of politicians, political parties and politics in general. Even before the latest scandal, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013 public opinion survey found that 59 per cent of respondents saw the parliament/legislature as corrupt or extremely corrupt, 71 per cent saw public officials and civil servants as corrupt or extremely corrupt, and 73 per cent felt that political parties were corrupt or extremely corrupt.
Those contesting the next elections will need to guarantee the strength and independence of public prosecutors and the judiciary, ensure that those charged with corruption face trial, and demonstrate that the electoral process is free and fair.
An end to impunity
Despite widespread support for the recent law enforcement actions to stop corruption, there are some worrying signs. Three former MPs arrested in June, who are alleged to have resigned their positions in parliament in return for lucrative state company jobs, have already had charges against them dropped on the grounds of parliamentary immunity. Other politicians have also complained that the judiciary is not sufficiently sensitive to peculiarities of political life, a euphemistic turn of phrase that appears to suggest that those in power want a two-tier justice system.
“Instead of politicians expressing their confidence in the judiciary, some politicians began to attack law enforcement and prosecutors. They wanted a different approach in criminal justice for politicians than for normal citizens; freedom from political interference for law enforcement must be protected,” according to Radim Bureš, Programme Director of Transparency International Czech Republic.
Former Prime Minister Nečas, who was elected on an anti-graft platform and is credited with distancing state institutions from politicians, spoke out against prosecutors after the police raids, calling the situation a “prosecutors’ coup d’état”.
The judicial process against Jana Nagyova, the alleged mistress of Nečas and former government official at the heart of the corruption and spying scandal, will be a key test of the strength of the country’s institutions.
In order to ensure that the campaigning in the run-up to the snap elections is accountable, Transparency International Czech Republic will be monitoring party sponsors and campaign costs, and looking at the incomes and expenditures of each party. Transparency International Czech Republic monitored the presidential campaign earlier this year, and plans to build on that experience.
– David Ondráčka, Executive Director, Transparency International Czech Republic
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