The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
Since the so-called ‘velvet revolution’ in 1989, politics in the Czech Republic has been governed – some would say overshadowed – by two competing and, ultimately, incompatible interests. On one side are formal political parties, while on the other stand proponents of a system of anti-politics which advocates something called ‘civil society’ where policy emanates, almost mysteriously, from citizens’ groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). While masquerading as a form of benevolent populism, critics view these ideas as akin to the classic Gramscian notion of ‘hegemony’ whereby society is governed by powerful elites - the opposite, in fact, of people power.
A network of such elites including journalists, academics and businessmen has grown ever more powerful in the Czech Republic over the past ten years, their centre of gravity being the internationally revered Czech president, Václav Havel. Havel has long been the leading exponent of ‘civic society’, regularly criticizing politicians for their venality and corruption. The Czech president is the most visible example of the Communist-era dissident turned politician.
Over the previous 4 years foreign investment in the Czech economy grew as large firms including breweries and utilities such as gas distribution companies were sold abroad. Large hypermarkets were appearing, although they have not yet proliferated to the same level as in Poland. But, as foreign supermarket chains are offered tax breaks (similar to those in Poland) to enter the Czech market their presence can only increase. By the end of 2001 there was no major bank in the Czech Republic not controlled by a large Western banking group.
As the June 2002 election approached leading figures in the ČSSD were determined to ensure that the events of 1998 did not repeat themselves. The party was basically split between older, prototype Socialists and young modernizers of whom the Interior Minister, Stanislav Gross and Chamber of Deputies deputy chairman, Petra Buzková (both close to Havel) were the most prominent members. The leader of the ČSSD and prime minister, the mercurial Miloš Zeman, resigned as party leader in 2001. His successor, Vladimír Špidla, is a colourless but more predictable figure.
Many of the tensions that infect the Czech political landscape date back to 1997. The Civil Democratic Party (ODS) had won the parliamentary election in 1996, but with a reduced majority. The party formed a coalition government with the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) but the latter withdrew its support in November 1997 after the ODS became engulfed by financial scandals. Later that year, disaffected members of the ODS attempted to take over the party. But the plan failed when former dissident, Jan Ruml, failed to dislodge Václav Klaus as leader of the ODS in December that year. In January 1998, Ruml and others who had also left the ODS, founded a new party, the Freedom Union, Unie Svobody (US).
To overcome the impasse that resulted from the collapse of the coalition, an agreement was reached whereby the president would appoint an interim government on condition that parliamentary elections are held in June 1998. This government, led by a new prime minister, the head of the Czech National Bank, Josef Tošovský contained many of the ODS dissidents now in the US.
The June 2002 elections have returned a government coalition of left and right that has something for everyone, from President Havel to the EU. But, the better-than-expected Communist vote threatens to spoil the party.
Parliamentary elections were held in the Czech Republic on 14th/15th June, 2002. Since the last poll in 1998 the country had been ruled by a minority Social Democrat (ČSSD) government tolerated by the second largest party, the centre-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in what became known as the ‘opposition agreement’.
This arrangement has been subject to furious criticism from certain quarters within the political elite of the Czech Republic and attempts have been made on several occasions to bring it to an end. However, defying nay-sayers, the government survived its 4 year mandate.
Enter the Labour Party: On 13th June, Lithuania also held its first elections to select 13 MPs to the European parliament. From the established parties the Social Democrats won 2 seats, the Liberal-Centrist Union, 2, Homeland Union 2, Liberal Democrats, 1, Farmers and New Democracy, 1. Although Paksas’s Liberal Democrats might have expected to gain support after the acknowledged unpopularity of the impeachment process, the main winner was the upstart Labour Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a former Social Liberal MP, which won 5 seats. Lithuania’s Labour Party is a classic jack-in-the-box creation which suddenly appeared in October 2003 and immediately took a lead in the opinion polls. It mirrors similar parties that have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, in several former Communist countries. For instance, the Smer (Direction) party in Slovakia and Bulgaria’s National Movement for Simeon 11 were created to drain support away from genuine opposition parties – in the case of Slovakia, from Vladmir Mečiar’s HZDS and in Bulgaria, from the Socialist Party (BSP). As Paksas continued to attract large numbers to his meet-the-people sessions the possibility presented itself that large numbers would vote Liberal Democrat in parliamentary elections scheduled for October, 2004.
On 25th May, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a wide-ranging ruling banning any impeached person from holding public office for life. In other words, it went far beyond the retroactive law. Since the Constitutional Court’s lengthy ruling has yet to be translated into English, Mr. Šukys kindly explained his understanding of the Court’s decision and its reasoning to the BHHRGs observers a few days after it was announced. On the day of its judgement the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Egidijus Kuris, and spokesperson, Ramune Sakalauskaite, were widely quoted in the international as well as the Lithuanian media saying that "The Constitutional Court found that the amendments to the law on presidential elections, under which people impeached from their posts cannot be elected for five years, does not run counter to the constitution," 
HITS: 2047 | 17-06-2004, 22:30 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Great Britain , Political science, Analyzing
The vogue for books and films about a vanished age of public school boy heroes, matrons and manners is the backdrop to the re-emergence of the politics of deference in Britain. After decades of dumbing down and a public school prime minister like Tony Blair who mangles his Estuary English in a desperate attempt to please the plebs, suddenly posh is the new divine right of politicians. Although American neo-conservatives like to present themselves as representatives of commonsense man against pointy-headed elitists who oppose wars of aggression and open-cast mining, British neo-conservatives are born-again class warriors. Of course not every journalistic advocate of Cameron is an Old Etonian but that just adds to the delicious atmosphere of deference. Whereas Murdoch’s US vicar, the Hudson Institute’s Irwin Steltzer, can assure readers of the Weekly Standard that the snobs were against George Bush’s America, our own Lord Rees-Mogg – whose first venture into boosting alleged drug abusers was his immortally comic deferential interview with Mick Jagger long before Cameron was born – drew on all his arts of self-parody to explain how 22 or more family entries in Burke’s Peerage and the Dictionary of National Biography made Cameron nature’s own candidate to rule democratic even demotic Britain.
HITS: 2488 | 17-06-2004, 22:23 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Great Britain , Political science, Analyzing
The nearest moment to a wobble in Cameron’s effortless rise to the top came when he failed to answer questions about any drug use in his past. As a member of Oxford’s notorious Bullingdon Club in the1980s – a group which has spawned a generation of cokeheads on the one hand and neo-con politicians in Britain and the New Europe on the other - Cameron clearly expected his decision to keep his pre-political private life “private” would be accepted with deference. In fact it took a host of commentators to knock it into Britons’ heads that past use of Class A drugs are a qualification for representing the “future not the past” in post-modern Britain. Cameron presented questions about any past drug use as unwarranted intrusions into his privacy, but that overlooks two key points. When it had suited Mr Cameron to parade his private life, for instance, the distressing disability of his young son, Ivan, he seems to have had few qualms about making political profit out of it.
HITS: 2320 | 1-06-2004, 17:51 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Cyprus , Political science, Political leaders
BHHRG sent observers to monitor the conduct of the election itself held on 14th December 2003. As TRNC is an unrecognised state, official monitoring organizations like the OSCE as well as EU bodies were unwilling to send representatives to observe the poll. However, a group from the University of Oslo had been in TRNC for several months monitoring the campaign and a small number of German SPD MPs (including a member of Turkish Cypriot origin) attended the election itself. There were also two British observers, acknowledged supporters of TRNC. 7 parties contested the 50 seats in TRNC’s parliament. Elections are conducted by a complicated system of proportional representation which allows not only a vote for the bloc but also a preferential vote which can be for candidates from other parties. There is a 5% threshold for entry into parliament. By polling day, 141,479 electors had been registered.