Guess which Czech party would be the most tight-lipped about its number of party members? Would it be:

a)ODS, the Civic Democrats, who have something of a reputation for shady dealings because of a series of corruption scandals over the many years they have been in the top echelons of power;
b)KSCM, the Communists, who remain largely unreformed and likely nostalgic for the grand Soviet tradition of hiding every bit of information from public view;
c)CSSD, the Social Democrats, who, like ODS, remained tarnished over their own share of scandals;
d)VV, a new party called Veci Verejne (Public Affairs), which entered parliament last year on a platform centered on the fight against corruption and for greater governmental transparency.

I put that question recently to a Czech friend that knows the political world well here and works for an NGO with greater government accountability and transparency high on its agenda. He guessed ODS first, and then I think KSCM or CSSD, all logical choices given their many years in power and resistance, in the past, to opening up the state administration to greater scrutiny. Wrong he was. The answer: VV.

A bit of background: Each year I write a chapter on the Czech Republic for a Freedom House book called “Nations in Transit,” which uses analytical reports and a somewhat complex methodology to rank the countries of our region in their level of democratization. As part of the research for that chapter, I include the number of members that each political party has, mainly as an illustration on how low these figures are compared to many “mature” democracies and how, over the years, that has made it difficult for Czech parties to find new faces. Instead (at least until the last elections), they would tend to recycle the same old people or present bland individuals on their candidate lists who distinguished themselves more for their party loyalty than any real talent.

My wife, Alice, helps out with this research and calls around to the parties. Usually, it takes a bit of explaining about the report and why we’d like to know the numbers, but the parties are pretty forthcoming and fairly quickly give us a number. Not, however, with VV. Twice Alice was told that such information couldn’t be given out over the telephone; twice she wrote emails; and twice she got no answer. Finally, as a journalist not afraid to push, she called the party again and when told once more to just write an email, she said that she was fed up with emails just to get a simple number from a party priding itself on pushing for transparency. Still didn’t work. Finally, she dug up another number from VV’s website, called and spoke to someone, and after waiting another day, got a call back with the number: 2,500.

For the record, here are the numbers we were given:

The KSČM is the largest party (around 60,000 members), followed by the Christian Democrats (35,000), ODS (30,505), ČSSD (around 22,000), TOP09 (5,000), VV (2,500), and the Greens (2,000).

Photo from Kenny Miller’s stream at Flickr.com.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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