Academic Fiala set to stand for chairman of floundering Civic Democrats

Petr Fiala, photo: Filip Jandourek

For years the Civic Democrats were the dominant right-wing force in Czech politics. However, the party took less than 8 percent in recent elections and are very much on the ropes. With members crying out for a saviour, the relatively untested Petr Fiala appears set to announce a bid to run for chairman, and could well get elected.

Petr Fiala,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Petr Fiala was minister of education between May 2012 and July this year. A political scientist with no previous experience in high level politics, he won admirers for his measured approach and capable demeanour.

Though he was the Civic Democrats’ nominee for minister and was elected MP on their ticket, Mr. Fiala only actually joined the party last month.

Nevertheless, he is reportedly popular with regional branches and is increasingly being spoken of as a possible future chairman.

Among his backers is acting chair Martin Kuba.

“He’s a name I can imagine at the head of the Civic Democrats. He’s able to formulate his political views. He has been the rector of Masaryk University and is one of the most conservative politicians I’ve worked with. If he was leader of the Civic Democrats, his name would carry a lot of weight.”

Martin Kuba,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The Civic Democrats have been rocked by scandals and outflanked by rivals on the right in recent years, and many members are seeking a saviour who could at least steady the ship.

Popular veteran Miroslava Němcová was electoral leader and, despite the party’s failure, had considered running for chair in an election in January.

However, Hospodářské noviny reported on Friday that she was going to sit out the vote, possibly clearing a path for Mr. Fiala, who is expected to officially declare his candidacy on Saturday.

The career academic is relatively unknown. But that could actually work in his favour, suggests commentator Erik Best.

“He has shown a willingness to take a leadership position at a time when the party pretty much needed a new face and was having trouble finding a new face among the old faces. Mrs. Němcová was in a sense a new face, but she’d been in the party for 15 years, a large part of that time in a leadership position. So the past was very much associated with her. From that standpoint, Mr. Fiala is a representable person who gives the Civic Democrats a chance of coming back.”

Miroslava Němcová | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
At the weekend Petr Fiala is expected to outline his vision for the party in a document entitled “The Civic Democrats at the Crossroads”.

But some might say the Civic Democrats are in fact close to the dustbin of history, with one recent poll even suggesting they would not get into the lower house today.

If he does become party chief in the New Year, Mr. Fiala will have his work cut out.