Christian Democrats seek Moses to lead party out of political desert

Jiří Čunek

It’s a party drifting in the political doldrums, and this weekend it will decide whether to stay with the current captain or toss him overboard. The Christian Democrats are the Czech Republic’s second oldest political party and have served in governments both right and left since 1989. But the party appears to be splintering under controversial chairman Jiří Čunek; this weekend the Christian Democrats will decide whether he should stay or go.

The Christian Democrats find themselves in a fairly parlous state; even Jiří Čunek says the party is experiencing its biggest crisis in twenty years. The party was part of the Topolánek cabinet and has been a steady force in successive Czech governments in recent years.

Now, of course, the country is being ruled by a caretaker cabinet while the parties concentrate on the European Parliament elections next weekend and early parliamentary elections in October. The Christian Democrats are not looking good in polls for either; they’ll be lucky to hold on to their two MEPs in June and scrape past the 5% threshold to enter the lower house in October.

The party is in turmoil; allegedly beset with financial problems and internally divided. One of the most popular Christian Democrat ministers in the former government – Miroslav Kalousek - has announced he’s leaving to form a new party, in protest at the Christian Democrats' shift to the left under Jiří Čunek. He could take several senior party members with him.

Cyril Svoboda
Mr Čunek himself has severely embarrassed the party through several corruption scandals and an awful botched attempt to get his rival Miroslav Kalousek booted out of the government in January. He failed, and instead was forced to give up his two cabinet posts, following an excruciating confrontation with Mr Kalousek live on television. Despite this, he maintains he’s the best man to unite the Christian Democrats and return to its Christian values, which he says have been neglected.

Standing against him for the party leadership are three rivals: the best-known face is Cyril Svoboda, a former party leader and long-time minister in successive cabinets. He emphasizes his political experience and says he wants to restore the party’s pride and return it to government in the autumn.

Also challenging Mr Čunek is MEP Jan Březina, a Kalousek ally. He says he’s the candidate of change, and will bring a new, refreshing leadership.

Finally there’s the current deputy chairwoman Michaela Šojdrová. She says both streams of opinion in the Christian Democrats – the pro-Čunek left wing and the pro-Kalousek right wing - should be represented in the party leadership and she believes she’s a compromise candidate to bridge the two sides. We’ll find out on Saturday when the party meets in Moravian city of Vsetín, which is incidentally Jiří Čunek’s home town.