Christian Democrat conference fails to give party new direction

Christian Democrat conference, photo: CTK

Internal strife, corruption scandals, a lack of direction and dwindling party membership – such is the present-day image of the Christian Democratic Party, one of the three parties of the Czech governing coalition. The party’s weekend conference was meant to address these issues, but it brought no significant progress and has left political commentators speculating on whether the party has a political future. Daniela Lazarová spoke to commentator Jiří Pehe about what ails the Christian Democrats and how it could affect the ruling coalition.

Christian Democrat conference, photo: CTK
“The biggest problem of the Christian Democratic party is that the party itself does not know what kind of party it is–or should be. There are two opinion streams: one is that the Christian Democrats should be a conservative party along West European lines and the other is that is should be a centrist party which often takes on the role of kingmaker in the Czech political system. The party opened this conference with the promise to present a programme, to let the public know what kind of party it wants to be and how it wants to operate in the future. This has not happened and I think we can consider this conference a huge failure for the Christian Democrats.”

Is it even clear who is in charge? Obviously, Jiří Čunek, the party leader, is now back in government posts but there is a strong faction around finance minister Miloslav Kalousek. Who has the upper hand and what can we expect?

Jiří Čunek, photo: CTK
“It is very hard to say who is really in charge. There has been a power struggle going on for some time within party ranks. Mr. Kalousek, who used to be party leader was replaced two years ago by Mr. Čunek, who represents regional leaders who revolted against Mr. Kalousek, but it seems that a lot of power has remained in Mr. Kalousek’s hands and it seems to me that he and his people are waiting for the earliest opportunity to get rid of Mr. Čunek and politicians that he brought to high party posts.”

The party was rebuked by the prime minister - at the weekend conference - for the way it has behaved in the governing coalition. Do you feel that the party in-fighting could undermine or threaten the governing coalition?

“The Christian Democrats have been a threat to the coalition for some time now. And it is not just that the party is not very high principled when it comes to keeping promises given to its coalition partners. There is also the question of its leader Mr. Čunek. Mr. Čunek has returned to government posts but the suspicions of corruption and racism surrounding him were never fully dispelled. The Christian Democratic party is now a very weak link in the ruling coalition and it could really be a matter of days or weeks before this party causes a major problem for the centre-right government.”

Photo: CTK
Large numbers of traditional Christian Democrat supporters are leaving the party. Is this a party of the way out or is there anything the Christian Democrats can do to save themselves?

“I think that the Christian Democrats could have done something a few years ago – to modernize the party and come up with ideas which would be closer to the mainstream of European politics represented by the Christian Democratic parties in Europe - but I think they missed the chance to do that. This is a party whose members and supporters are by-and-large elderly people and the party has not been able to reverse this trend. Another problem is that because of party in-fighting the Christian Democrats have not come up with new ideas and a programme that would attract new supporters. So I am really pessimistic when it comes to the future of the Christian Democrats. If we add to all of these problems the fact that this is a “regional” party supported mainly by people in southern and northern Moravia we are looking at a party that could be out of the political mainstream in a few years time.”