Christian Democrats seek salvation with Svoboda

Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK

The traditional kingmakers of Czech politics – the Christian Democrats – held a closely observed national congress at the weekend. The main event was the election of a new leader, with former foreign minister Cyril Svoboda replacing the scandal besmirched Jiří Čunek. The change has sparked analysis of what Svoboda can do for the troubled party.

Jan Březina congratulates Cyril Svoboda  (right),  photo: CTK
Cyril Svoboda took the helm of the Christian Democrats with a narrow 30 vote victory over his nearest rival – MEP Jan Březina. The leadership change comes with Christian Democrat fortunes at a very low ebb. There is speculation whether they can muster the minimum 5.0 percent support needed to get any seats in this week’s European Parliament elections or retain a presence in the lower house in October’s elections.

The weekend vote was an even greater defeat for Jiří Čunek – the man most blamed for getting the party to this point – than had been expected. Professor of politics at Prague’s University of Economics Vladimíra Dvořáková believes the damaging Čunek chapter is now closed.

“The party I think clearly gave the message that it does not want to continue with the leadership of Mr Čunek who lost very much.”

She says he still might be a regional force in his home region but he is now ended as a national politician.

Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
His replacement – Cyril Svoboda – is a well known and safe pair of hands. The ever smiling Svoboda has already been party leader before – between 2001 and 2003 – and filled a series of cabinet posts in left and right-wing coalition governments.

As the new leader, Mr Svoboda is likely to feel the impact of the party’s low ratings with a poor showing in next weekend’s European elections. He may also face further desertions to a new right of centre party in the process of being created by former Christian Democrat leader and finance minister Miroslav Kalousek.

Most of the Czech press has interpreted Mr Svoboda’s election as increasing the chances of a coalition between it and the left wing Social Democrats following October’s elections. But Professor Dvořáková believes the final election figures rather than Mr Svoboda’s favouring of a strong social policy will determine if the party lines up with the Civic Democrats or Social Democrats.

“I think that with the leadership of Svoboda both parties are acceptable. You know, Svoboda was minister in a right wing party and was minister in a left-wing party, that means he collaborated with the cabinet of [Mirek] Topolánek and being foreign minister in a Social Democrat cabinet. So I do not think that is a big problem”

While she believes the Christian Democrats will make it back into parliament in October, they might well find they are no longer the kingmakers but just part of the court.