Civic Democrats celebrate 20 years since party’s foundation

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic’s major right-of-centre party, the Civic Democrats, celebrated 20 years since its foundation. At a convention held in Prague on Thursday to mark the occasion, all three chairmen in the party’s history – Václav Klaus, Mirek Topolánek and Petr Nečas – offered their views of the party’s past achievements and future challenges. But the celebrations could not conceal the deep internal conflicts the party will have to resolve a massive wane in voter support.

Photo: CTK
Prime Minister and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas addressed some 600 guests who came to Prague’s Žofín Palace on Thursday afternoon to celebrate their party’s 20th birthday.

Mr Nečas said the Civic Democrats were a well-established political party that always found enough strength to overcome any period of crisis, like the one that recently shook up the country’s government.

Accompanied on stage by most members of the Civic Democrat leadership, Mr Nečas drew a distinction between his party and some of the new groups that recently rose to power.

“We are not a marketing project, and our voters know that. We have our traditions, we have firm party structures and we also have solid ideological roots. But, ladies and gentlemen, we must not become supercilious; we must reflect the changing political reality that is ever more complex.”

Under the leadership of Václav Klaus, the Civic Democrats emerged in 1991 from the Civic Forum, an umbrella organization that took over power from the communist authorities.

Václav Klaus,  Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
The party instantly became a dominant force on the Czech political scene, and played a key role in the country’s transformation in the 1990s. But before the decade ended, the Civic Democrats got tainted with corruption allegations which resulted in the party’s first major crisis.

Following a defeat in the 2002 general elections, Václav Klaus stepped down as Civic Democrat chair to be elected the country’s president. Meanwhile, Mirek Topolánek took over the party’s helm, very much against the founding father’s wishes.

Mr Topolánek tried to sever the Civic Democrats’ firm ties with the business underworld and steered the party into the political centre, a move strongly opposed by Václav Klaus and those within the party who remained loyal to him.

The conflict was not resolved until last year’s ousting of Mirek Topolánek, in which Václav Klaus was rumoured to play a crucial part. But when the president took the floor on Thursday, he suggested the party had diverged too much from its original principles.

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
“I recently came to believe that the wavering of the Civic Democrats had been overcome, and that the new party leadership with Petr Nečas at the helm would bring about a change, although I was aware it was not going to be easy. But the shift had been too great, and the changes made over the last year were too small.”

However, dealing with the legacy of Václav Klaus is just one of many great challenges lying ahead of the Civic Democrats. The party needs to stop a massive wane in voter support. To do that, Civic Democrat leaders need to turn the fragile peace within the coalition into a lasting agreement on some of the government’s essential reform plans.