Civic Democrat delegates to meet in Prague for key party conference

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

All eyes will be on Prague’s Clarion Congress Hotel this weekend as delegates from the right of centre Civic Democrats gather for a crucial party conference. The Civic Democrats are still licking their wounds from disastrous regional and Senate elections, and will meet to elect a new leadership amid a war of words between party leader and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and President Václav Klaus.

Pavel Bém
Mirek Topolánek’s chances of staying on as party leader looked very slim indeed in the immediate aftermath of the elections, now, it seems, it’s almost certain he’ll stay on. So why the reversal of fortunes?

Many in the Civic Democrats were clamouring for him to step down after the elections, including the one dozen Civic Democrat governors who lost their jobs. But the leadership challenge mounted by Prague mayor Pavel Bém seems to have fallen flat. Both Mr Topolánek and Mr Bém have been canvassing support among Civic Democrat regional associations in the last few weeks, and Mr Bém has not emerged with a single nomination. The Bém leadership challenge, however, seems to be a side show to the real confrontation expected this weekend – the appearance of Václav Klaus.

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
Mr Klaus has kept people guessing as to whether he would appear at the conference, but a spokesman announced on Thursday that the president would appear on Saturday morning and make a speech. The speech is expected to lay into Prime Minister Topolánek, his policies and his style of government. It was Václav Klaus who founded the Civic Democrats in 1991, he’s still the party’s honorary president and still has a great deal of influence in the party. How much influence will become clear on Saturday.

Mirek Topolánek is expected to hold on to the party leadership. But delegates will not only elect the chairman of the party, but also the deputy chairs. A key question is whether those posts will be filled by people loyal to Mr Topolánek, or Mr Klaus. There have also been suggestions that the post of party leader might be limited to just one year, so Mr Topolánek might be kept on – perhaps in view of the forthcoming Czech EU presidency – but not for much longer.

Mr Klaus has also indicated he is thinking of leaving the Civic Democrats, so disgusted is he with the party’s direction under Mirek Topolánek, and the speech will be a key indicator of whether he’s serious.