Blow for left-wing opposition, boost for government’s radar plan as MP defects

Petr Wolf, photo: CTK

The balance of forces in the lower house tipped slightly in favour of the government this weekend as another MP from the opposition Social Democrats – the fourth in the last 18 months – announced he was leaving the party. In a parliament where votes pass and fall on the tiniest of margins, the defection of MP Petr Wolf is a blow for the left-wing opposition and a boost for the government’s plans to get the planned U.S. radar base through parliament.

Petr Wolf,  photo: CTK
Petr Wolf, a 48-year-old MP from Ostrava elected on the Social Democrat ticket in June 2006, had been a source of concern to the Social Democrat leadership for some time. In December 2007 he missed a vote of no-confidence in the Topolanek government, claiming he was ill. It later transpired he was defending his professorial thesis in Ostrava. But eyebrows were truly raised when he returned from a tour of the U.S. Marshall Islands – currently home to a tracking radar the Americans want to place on Czech soil – with the words “actually I wouldn’t be too bothered by the radar base here”.

That, of course, goes against Social Democrat doctrine on the radar base, and Mr Wolf began to feel the heat from his party colleagues. The last straw came on Sunday, when Social Democrat deputies’ group leader Michal Hasek claimed on television that the governing Civic Democrats were in the process of buying his vote, accusations they strongly deny. Mr Wolf resigned, first from the deputies’ group and then from the party. Here’s an excerpt of his response to Mr Hasek’s claim, published in the media:

David Rath and Michal Hašek,  photo: CTK
“The statement was speculative, distasteful and devalues both constitutional and democratic principles…A political party which punishes and accuses people for having their own opinions and attempting to launch a discussion about them is not a party I can remain in.”

Mr Wolf’s departure recalibrates the fine balance of forces in the lower house. It is now more likely – though not definite – that the centre-right government can get the radar base through parliament. But rather than obsessing about the radar, says political analyst Petr Just, the Social Democrats should concentrate on why their MPs keep leaving them:

“In my opinion the Social Democrats should be taking care of themselves and trying to find out why Mr Wolf is the fourth member of parliament in one and a half years to leave the party, whether there is some fault inside the Social Democrats or not. They are more focused on attacking the Civic Democrats and attacking Mr Wolf himself, like it was just their fault. But in my opinion they should try to look a little inside the Social Democrats to see whether there might be some causes for the fact that members of parliament are leaving the party.”

And in real terms there could be very serious consequences for political stability in the wake of Mr Wolf’s defection. There had been a sliver of hope that the major parties would announce a temporary ceasefire during the six-month Czech presidency of the European Union that begins on January 1st. The Social Democrats – convinced the Civic Democrats are buying off their MPs – say that is now out of the question.