The Opposition Agreement Era in the Light of Public Opinion
Extended abstract: The so-called opposition agreement was concluded by the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) after the Chamber of Deputies elections of 1998. It paved the way for a ČSSD minority government in 1998-2002. To present day, it continues to represent one of the most contested moments of the country's post-communist political history. Both general awareness and the publicist discourse are dominated by a categorically negative, accusatory
... accusatory evaluation of the agreement as a deviation from the democratic framework, a catalyst of systemic corruption and clientelism, and a source of deep scepticism and political disaffection in the Czech general public. While scholarly literature also features strongly critical attitudes to the opposition agreement, there have been a number of works which compared it to the ways minority governments were formed and operated in other countries or which studied the circumstances of its formation and how the situation evolved. Such works have argued that the opposition agreement was a relatively standard case of minority government with under-developed institutional support. The present study is based on the continual data from surveys of the Public Opinion Research Centre. It deals with the ways public opinion responded to the opposition agreement at the time of its formation and perceived the political situation and overall development in 1998-2002, comparing it to the preceding and subsequent time periods. The empirical evidence shows that most citizens perceived the opposition agreement negatively in general, and especially as the details of its formation have been blurred by the growing time distance from the June 1998 elections. Such negative perceptions, along with the aftermath of the 1997-1999 economic crisis, gave rise to phenomena such as a considerable decline of popular support for the ČSSD, decreasing trust in government, and growing political discontent between September 1998 and the end of 1999. However, evidence from studies that focused more specifically on the opposition agreement demonstrates that the public attitudes to the opposition agreement were not negative en bloc. Moreover, the 2000-2002 period saw an apparent shift towards positive attitudes. At the same time, the attitudes to economic and political realities changed considerably throughout the era. The negative trends that prevailed in the first half of the election cycle, and especially in 1999, were replaced by a positive trend as the country overcame the post-1997 economic recession. At the end of the era, the ČSSD and its minority government were perceived as successful by a much broader segment of the population than just the social democratic constituency or left-wing voters in general. These circumstances were probably responsible for the ČSSD's election victory in 2002, while negative attitudes to the opposition agreement had ceased to play a major role by that time.