Civic Democrat leader gets green light for coalition talks

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

Civic Democratic party leader Mirek Topolanek was re-elected for another two-year term at the party's national conference over the weekend and received a strong mandate to form a broad coalition government with a limited term in office. Political analysts say Mr. Topolanek's personal victory may resolve the country's drawn out political crisis.

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
It was all or nothing for Mirek Topolanek, who decided to link his re-election to a strong mandate which would allow him to pursue his own solution to the country's political crisis: a coalition government involving the rival Social Democrats. Although he ran uncontested, Mr. Topolanek had a hard battle to fight - he had to explain why he had done a u-turn and was now advocating cooperation with the party's main rival in place of early elections. A stormy debate and an unexpected challenge from deputy chairwoman Miroslava Nemcova revealed that many Civic Democrats were far from happy with the idea. However the man who has led the party to six election victories proved hard to unseat - with an unusual show of spirit he convinced 70 percent of party members that his solution was the right one. Immediately after the vote he told Czech Radio he was more than pleased with the outcome:

"Seventy-percent backing is an unbelievably strong mandate, given the kind of discussions we had here and what is at stake. This vote was more about the country's future than the future of Mirek Topolanek. Even the thirty percent of votes against my re-election were, I think, more a show of opposition to Jiri Paroubek than to Mirek Topolanek"

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Despite Mr. Topolanek's optimism, close to a third of his party's members are not happy about his plans for the future. Are they in a position to rock the boat? A question I put to political analyst Jiri Pehe:

"I do not think there are any senior members of the party leadership who pose a challenge to Mr. Topolanek. Mrs. Nemcova was deposed and if we take into account that all other members of the party leadership are -to some degree -in favour of negotiating and that this whole agreement is backed by President Klaus, who still has a very strong position within the party, then there is really no great danger for Mr. Topolanek. I know that thirty percent sounds ominous but at the same time I would argue that in any democratic party people who have lost an argument must accept defeat and I believe that this will not have any direct consequences for the unity of the party."

As of Monday the new party leadership is meeting to debate its strategy in talks with rival parties and the prime minister designate has promised the Czech Republic a stable government before Christmas.