Every now and then, I conduct a brief opinion poll of the people I know in the Czech Republic. Last week I made the rounds with questions about how these friends and acquaintances view the parties before the upcoming election and which party they are likely to vote for. The following results are completely unscientific, but based upon the wide variety of people questioned, I think a general pattern is discernible.
The general reaction I received to my questions when I asked them in person was usually a sigh and a roll of the eyes which expressed a kind of malaise, and this feeling of fearful hopelessness was also evident in e-mails I received. The typical attitude was frustration that no party was really trustworthy and a feeling that no matter who was elected, they would just be new conniving bums in place of the old conniving bums.
Several groups of friends had similar thoughts. They said that they could never vote for Klaus like they did last time because he hurt the economy and helped the crooks. They thought about voting for Ruml, but they decided against it because they see him as part of the ODS leadership that was discredited along with Klaus. Besides Ruml just seems a bit power hungry to these voters, and he seems too much driven by his personal conflicts with Klaus and Zeman.
Some of these voters then thought about voting for CSSD, but declared that they could never do it as long as Zeman was in charge. "If Buzkova was the leader, I'd swing over to CSSD," several former ODS voters told me. "Why doesn't Buzkova lead that party?" they asked. Good question, I thought.
The voters I talked with then finished their list saying that they were not Catholic enough to vote for Lux's party, not old enough to vote for DZJ and not (yet) crazy enough to vote for the Republicans or Communists. So, my friends and acquaintances simply feel that even though the election is coming, they haven't got a decent party to vote for.
My immediate reaction to this sentiment is to just shrug my shoulders and say "Well, welcome to democracy." People living in other democracies around the world haven't got much choice either. I tell my friends that at least the Czech Republic has six or seven parties to choose from instead of two as is now embarrassingly enshrined into law in the USA. This is not the most helpful observation, however.
While it is true that citizens of the Czech Republic are frustrated almost to the point of apathy as in other democracies, there is something else associated with these feelings in the Czech Republic, and that is extreme disappointment. So many people seem to have hoped for so much, and now it seems that as far as the economy, state bureaucracy, corruption and decency are concerned, not much has changed in the past ten years.
But I don't think that the problem lies in people expecting too much eight or nine years ago. I think it has to do with people not expecting enough now. People don't expect the economic situation to improve. They do not expect that EU entry will dispel the current fog. Most disturbing of all, they do not expect elected officials and public services to be accountable to the people.
When people do not expect decency, they do not get decency, because to expect decency is to demand decency. If you don't like any of the top parties, get rid of them in June by voting for a long shot. I doubt you will be alone, and I fundamentally disagree with the sentiment that says it doesn't make sense to vote for a party that is polling low before the elections. One should always vote for the best party or candidate regardless of their chances of winning. At the very least, it will send a signal.
I hope that the current frustration with the lack of political choice will blossom into a positive civic attitude that demands more from public officials and throws them out when they act improperly.