Civic Democrat leader wins re-election but crucial battle still to come

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Petr Nečas was re-elected leader of the centre-right Civic Democratic Party over the weekend, successfully fending off a challenge from the party rebels who are threatening to bring down his government. Armed with a convincing victory in the first round of elections, the prime minister now faces the toughest battle of all – putting down a rebellion in his party that has virtually paralyzed the centre-right administration.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
There were few smiles and no back-slapping at this Civic Democratic Party conference. As Prime Minister Petr Nečas took the stand to thank delegates for their vote – he made it clear he knew of the many reservations that came with it.

“I want to express my gratitude, because I am perfectly aware that this was not an easy or straightforward decision. We have come to a critical point and you were faced with a critical choice. I realize it was not an easy decision for you, but that is the way things are sometimes.”

His one and only rival for the top post – former agriculture minister and one of the six rebels within the party Ivan Fuksa announced his candidacy virtually at the eleventh hour offering the party what he called a “re-start” and promising to get a revision of the coalition agreement to bring it closer to the Civic Democrat’s policy programme – a move he said would bring back lost voters.

Ivan Fuksa,  photo: CTK
The prime minister, who admitted to having made mistakes and promised to improve communication both within the party and with the public, rejected the idea that the party had abandoned its policy programme and warned of the consequences of bringing down the government over a tax squabble.

“The left wing parties are waiting for our mistakes. We are putting everything at stake in a controversy over 1 percentage point, in one tax rate, for one year when the alternative is opening the way to a left-wing government which has already said it wants to raise taxes by 3 percentage points of GDP. So I am asking you to weigh up those alternatives and consider carefully what you want to do, what you want to say and where you stand.”

Faced with that choice, 351 delegates gave their vote to the incumbent leader, 178 backed his rival. None of the rebels was elected even to a deputies’ post –although the choice of deputies clearly indicated that the party is looking for change.

Photo: CTK
Although the embattled prime minister won a fresh mandate as party leader his problems are far from over. His party remains deeply divided and Petr Nečas failed to offer a convincing solution to its problems. Thanks to party infighting the centre-right coalition has lost its majority in the lower house and now has 99 seats in the 200 strong lower chamber making it virtually impossible or at the very least extremely difficult to win enough support for its reform programme. A trial by fire is to come this week when the lower house is due to vote on a controversial tax bill which the prime minister has linked to a vote of confidence. The six rebel deputies, who failed to get the upper hand at the party conference, still have the clout to bring down the centre-right government, and the new Civic Democrat leadership is now scrambling to try and secure enough votes for the crucial bill. In a last ditch attempt to warn the rebels of the consequences of bringing down the Nečas cabinet, party deputy Miroslava Němcová on Monday made it clear the new leadership had agreed not to support a government headed by any other Civic Democrat that the rightfully elected leader.

Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats’ coalition partners –TOP 09 and LIDEM – have cautiously welcomed the outcome of the party’s weekend conference, but remain deeply skeptical regarding the government’s future.