Artwork By David Černý
Controversial Czech artist David Černý lets the politicians know what he thinks of them before the national elections (Reuters)

In the classic novel The Good Soldier Švejk, the Czech novelist Jaroslav Hašek satirised the stupidity of life in the Hapsburg Empire during the First World War.

The anti-hero of Hašek's tale is a former dog seller, amateur adventurer and storyteller who is the best example of a paradox on two legs.

Švejk must be one of the most astute idiots in all literature. He ingeniously gets himself into trouble but always finds a dignified exit.

For people unacquainted with the genius of Švejk, it is best to think of him as a combination of one's favourite character from Dad's Army and a distinguished conversationalist.

His mesmerising personality and wicked sense of fun set against the harshness of war became an enduring stereotype for some Czechs.

Laughing at their tragic history down the 20th century is an attitude that Czechs might feel pressured to draw on as they approach national elections.

Mainstream Parties

Petr Nečas
Former Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas resigned over a massive scandal (Reuters)

Czech politicians are intensely disliked, the centre ground is disappearing, and the parliamentary system is fragmenting after the previous centre-right coalition government under Petr Nečas collapsed in June.

The scandal - which forced Nečas to resign - involved widescale spying by the intelligence services, bribery, and a byzantine plot that was remarkable even by the standards of Czech public life.

Apart from the colourful detail that surrounded the government's demise, it was significant for the reason that Nečas was leader of the Civic Democrats, the main centre right party and the equivalent of the Conservatives in Britain.

The Civic Democrats have been the dominant party of the political right since the fall of communism but will probably be a minor party after these elections.

In 2010, they took 20% of the vote but will now probably get around 6.5%, according to some polls, as their last three years in coalition saw them impose unpopular austerity measures.

During Nečas's goverment, the country entered the longest recession in the post-communist era and imposed controversial cuts to ensure the country's budget deficit would fall within the European Union's strict Maastrict Treaty budget guidelines of 3% of GDP.

By June, the economy had shrunk for six straight quarters.

But the Czech left is also not a united force.

In an ideal world, the main centre-left party, the Social Democrats should be able to form a majority government with their historical rivals being so weak.

Though polls have suggested that the Social Democrats will take 25-30% of the vote their support was begining to slide in the run-up to voting.

The most likely result is therefore a coalition between the Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia.

With mainstream parties finding it increasingly difficult to win enough votes to form solid governments and many anti-establishment parties emerging to fill the void, the danger is that the Czech Republic becomes unstable.

There will either be dysfunctional coalition governments or weak minority regimes that are unable to run the country or pass meaningful legislation, according to Sean Hanley, senior lecturer in East European Politics at University College London. Hanley is an author of The New Right in the New Europe: Czech Transformation and Right-Wing Politics, 1989-2006.

"It is likely to be a watershed election," he said. "What we are seeing is the gradual melting-down of the previously very stable Czech party system and of the two main pillars of that which developed in the 1990s, which are the Civic Democrats and the Social Democrats.

"We are getting almost a repeat of 2010 where the left is in the lead, it starts to flag and people are cynical about all established parties and then we get this new party emerging. We are maybe heading for a cycle of protest, weak government, and more protest. That poses a lot of problems for the functioning of the county's democracy."

Hanley's assessment of the fluid political environment is even more complicated when the younger and smaller political parties are considered, he said.

New Parties

Andrej Babiš
Is Czech billionaire Andrej Babis a new Berlusconi? (Reuters)

With the establishment in crisis and Czech voters wary of scandals, the republic's second richest man, Andrej Babiš, has entered the scene.

Babiš has a net worth of approximately $2bn and has purchased two leading daily papers, Mladá Fronta Dnes and Lidové Noviny.

His foray into politics and acquisition of media have led some to speculate that he could become the Czech version of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.

His party, Ano2011, campaigns on an anti-corruption platform. Babiš appears to have a technocratic vision and seems to believe that a country can be run in a similar way to a corporation.

Ivan Pilný, the party's economic expert and former Microsoft CEO for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, revealed Babiš philosophy in an interview with Czech radio.

"There are a lot of similarities between governing a state and controlling a company. If you look at the budget, for example, that's something they have in common. If you look at the responsibilities of the managers, they are the same," said Pilný.

Ano2011 is proving to be a dark horse in the polls and could become the leading party on the right if can get enough votes. However, Hanley says that Babiš's political life could be challenging in the long-term.

"If Babiš's party gets into government, it is a completely unknown quantity and is potentially very unstable. In terms of his political agenda, we don't really know," said Hanley.

"He is extremely methodical in the way he has set up his organisation and bought into various media interests. Whether he has the potential to go is very hard to say.

"He will have difficulty holding the party together because the people he has picked are a bunch of independents. The one thing that might help him is the disunited state of the right.

"There will be some realignment after the election of the centre right and Babiš may be tempted to throw his lot in with this realignment and coalition building."

President Miloš Zeman

Miloš Zeman
President Miloš Zeman has expanded his power (Reuters)

On top of a fragile parliamentary system, the incumbent president, Miloš Zeman, has been accused of behaving unconstitutionally and exploiting the weakness of the political parties to consolidate his own power.

Zeman is the first Czech president to be elected into office in the post-communist era.

He won an election in January 2013 with 55% of votes in the second-round poll, compared to then foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg's 45%.

The contest revealed a polarisation in Czech society with the younger, educated and urban voters choosing the aristocrat Schwarzenberg while older and rural voters went for the straight-talking Zeman.

He has skilfully used this trait to his own advantage and has claimed he is above partisan political disputes while meddling in them using underhanded tactics.

As Social Democrats leader and prime minister of the Czech Republic from 1998-2002, he has useful connections.

"It seems clear the pro-Zeman camp has a clear majority in the party," said Hanley.

Bohuslav Sobotka, the leader of the Social Democrats, was directly undermined by Zeman when the latter appointed a caretaker government of technocrats after Nečas's coalition collapsed.

Sobotka refused to support it but was overruled by Zeman.

Zeman's opportunism and cynical populism is a hallmark of a political culture that has still not matured enough from the communist one-party state.

Backroom deals, little accountability and rampant corruption have been all too common since the Velvet Revolution led by the dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, overthrew the Stalinist dictatorship in November 1989.

The Ex-President

Vaclav Klaus
Ex-President Vaclav Klaus bides his time (Reuters)

However, another political heavyweight waiting in the shadows to exploit the instability is ex-president Vaclav Klaus.

Klaus is the father of the Civic Democrats and the main architect of the Czech Republic's neo-liberal economic reforms of the 1990s when he was prime minister.

He is famous for his rivalry with the late Vaclav Havel which defined the political direction of the country in the post-communist era.

He left office in March 2013 after being president for 10 years where he made his Eurosceptic views well known through frequent grandstanding at international summits and abrasive television appearances.

"Waiting in the wings is Vaclav Klaus. He almost certainly has ambitions to remake the Czech right," said Hanley. "Klaus is an incredibly cautious politician and always waits for the right opportunity and then pounces. He is undoubtedly not just going to write books and retire from politics like Havel did.

"From what we can tell he wants to play some sort of role in the realignment of the Czech right. He is probably waiting to see what type of major role he can play on the centre right and whether he can play a major role in leading the right. I don't think he is going to retire."

Outcome and Communist Past

Hanley believes the best outcome for the Czech Republic would be a coalition between the Social Democrats and Communists as they work well at a regional level. That would allow the Czech right to regain a degree of composure out of power.

"In terms of political stability, a Communist and Social Democrat arrangement would probably produce the most stable government while other scenarios are likely to be unstable because they left-right coalitions have always been unstable and unpopular with voters. They are usually seen as a corrupt stitch-up."

The danger is that the result of the Czech elections is not conclusive and leads to a malaise.

However, Hanley insisted that the position of politics in the Czech Republic is not as dangerous as that of Hungary where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has concentrated power in his hands.

"What is happening in Czech politics is that power is being fragmented. So there could be as many as seven or eight parties in parliament. Now that poses a lot of problems but what it does mean is that you are not going to get the concentration of power that you see in Hungary. So you are not going to see a Czech Viktor Orban," he said.

"The big danger in central and eastern Europe, even more than this cycle of anti-politics and anti-corruption, is where power is concentrated and politicians in the region can feel as they often do that they can ignore rule of law.

"If I was Czech and I was feeling pessimistic, I would [just look at] at Hungary and feel happy I was a Czech."