Changes in Political Culture in the Czech Republic

The elections to the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament[1] are fast approaching and so is the voters’ decision about who will represent them. The voters’ confidence in Czech politicians is grimly low. It is not very surprising considering the numerous corruption and political scandals filling media headlines in the past few years. However, does that mean that politicians are becoming more corrupt and less diligent in their duties? Answering the first part of the question might be impossible, since the corruption could simply be more visible than prevalent. Nevertheless, we might be able to shed some light on the second part of the question. Measuring politicians’ performance is difficult[2], but it is not completely impossible. Some indicators, however crude, can illuminate changes in politicians’ attitude towards their job. In the following paragraphs, I will try to highlight some of the changes in Czech political culture in the past decade using data from the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic over the third (1998-2002), fourth (2002-2006) and fifth (2006-2010) election periods.

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

It could be argued that one of the important duties of members of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic (further just deputies) is active participation in voting on the proposed bills. By voting, the politicians express their agreement or disagreement with the proposed bills and thus actively represent the interest of their electorate. We can differentiate between five different situations – active participation (meaning that the deputy was logged into the voting system and gave either his ‘aye’,’ nay’ or abstained), he was not logged in, or he has excused himself from attending. Analyzing the data presented in Table 1, we can see that over the years active participation of deputies has declined. The trend of the decreasing interest is further supported by data in Table 2 – on average deputies excused themselves from voting more and more often.

Table 1 – Average active participation in voting
1998-2002 73,50%
2002-2006 65,91%
2006-2010 65,03%
Table 2 – Average excusing from voting
1998-2002 0,21%
2002-2006 3,61%
2006-2010 4,39%

The opposite trend can be observed in deputies’ participation in committees. The committees are the key body where particular bills are mostly discussed and amended. In the Czech Republic, the committees are created by the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament. The data in Table 3 indicates that over the years deputies participated in committees more often (the second column shows how many committees they were members of on average, and the third one how many committees most of them were members of). However, these figures should be interpreted with caution. Examining the circumstances more closely reveals that the number of committees increased over the years. Since the number of parliament members is fixed, the increase in average membership is unsurprising. Unfortunately, without much more detailed research of the activities of the particular committees, we are unable to say more. It is possible that while participating in more committees, instead of increasing their workload, they simply redistributed it.

Table 3 – Membership in committees
Period Average Mode Number of committees
1998-2002 1,4 1 14
2002-2006 1,5 1 15
2006-2010 1,7 2 18

Examination of the number of submitted and approved bills, albeit quite problematic[3], can – to a limited degree – provide some indication of the changes in politicians’ competency. Table 4 indicates that there was not much of a change. We can observe that the percentage of the proposed bills that an average deputy was able to see passed remained somewhere between 30 and 40 % over the evaluated period (though there is some drop during the fifth election period).

Table 4 – Submitted and approved bills of an average deputy
Period Approved Submitted Approved percentage
1998-2002 4,28 10,99 38,93%
2002-2006 3,70 9,52 38,92%
2006-2010 3,94 12,59 31,30%

Further information can be provided by the examination of the number of times the particular deputy was chosen to be media representative for discussed issues. This should illustrate both activity (with these numbers being positively correlated with the committee attendance) and competence, since we can assume that only the more competent and knowledgeable deputies are usually chosen. Over the examined period, we can observe a declining trend, that is, the number of issues of which an average deputy was representative decreased.

Table 5 – Media representative for discussed issues
1998-2002 7,56
2002-2006 6,35
2006-2010 5,30

The last analyzed indicator is the participation in plenary sessions, more precisely the number of speeches given during the discussions. Unfortunately, while the overall number of speeches might indicate the grasp of particular issues by the speakers and their willingness to represent the interests of their voters, it does not allow us to differentiate between speeches of actual substance that contribute to the discussion, and those void of any relevant information and opinions. The implications given by figures in Table 6 are not completely one-sided. The absolute number of speeches of an average deputy increased between the third and the fifth election period and more deputies approached the average (first and last rows in the table), indicating that on average, the performance of deputies slightly improved. However, at the same time a contradicting trend emerged. The second and the third rows indicate that over the years more and more deputies started to free-ride and avoided active participation during the sessions.

Table 6 – Participation during plenary sessions
1998-2002 2002-2006 2006-2010
Average number of speeches 100,86 93,03 163,41
0 0,49% 2,95% 5,36%
Less than 10 4,37% 8,86% 12,50%
Less than average 69,90% 66,24% 66,52%

(Note: The first row shows the number of speeches of an average deputy during the given period, the second through to the fourth rows present the share of deputies that did not speak even once, spoke less than 10 times and less than the average.)

In conclusion, what can we objectively say about the overall changes in politicians’ attitude towards their duties during the last decade? While the particular indicators can, of course, paint only very limited picture, considering them collectively can show us some emerging patterns. It seems that the dropping confidence of the public in their representatives is not unfounded. In many respects, since 1998, politicians have become less diligent when it comes to fulfilling their duties as representatives of their voters. But can we expect this trend to change after the election? Only time will tell.

[1] The Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic is one of the two chambers of the Parliament, the other one being the Senate. It consists of 200 members (Deputies) that serve four-year terms and are elected using the party-list proportional representation system.

[2] As I have already previously illustrated elsewhere.

[3] The reasoning can be found in my previous article.

Jonas Rais