Civic Democrats replace besieged election leader

Mirek Topolánek y Petr Nečas, foto: ČTK

In a desperate attempt to boost their chances in the upcoming elections, the centre-right Civic Democrats on Thursday replaced their election leader. In a heated five hour debate the party leadership forced former prime minister and party chair Mirek Topolánek to resign from the position, replacing him with deputy-chairman Petr Nečas. Mr Topolánek, whose awkward comments on gays and Jews last weekend triggered the change-of-guard, remains party chairman.

Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolánek will not lead his party into May’s general elections. After days of strife over clumsy comments on gays and Jews the former prime minister made in an informal interview for a Czech gay magazine, the party leadership urged him on Thursday to step down as election leader, and to seriously consider resigning as party chairman.

Mirek Topolánek, Petr Nečas (right), photo: CTK
After a heated, five-hour debate on Thursday, Mr Topolánek said he was going to step down as the Civic Democrat election leader. He was replaced by senior Civic Democrat politician Petr Nečas, who said he appreciated Mr Topolánek’s decision.

“I’d like to thank Mirek Topolánek for his extremely responsible decision, made in a very difficult situation, and for the support he showed to me. I really appreciate it. Our priority is now to focus on the elections; to leave behind all the media affairs, and to focus on our supporters, to present our programme to them.”

Petr Nečas has been a Civic Democrat MP since 1992 and the deputy chair of the party since 1999. He served as the labour and social affairs minister in Mirek Topolánek’s government; in 2002 he lost his bid to become party chairman party leader by just two votes to the current leader. The Civic Democrats are hoping his conservative style will help repair the damage caused by Mr Topolánek. But the outspoken former prime minister remains party chairman, and nobody knows if and when he will step down. Petr Nečas said it was necessary to give Mr Topolánek more time to decide.

“The resolution recommended Mirek Topolánek to step down as election leader, to leave the party’s ballot in south Moravia and also to consider whether or not he should remain party chairman. Our party has some 30,000 members and we have a campaign to run, so it was necessary to give Mr Topolánek some time to decide.”

Some Civic Democrats believe Mirek Topolánek should step down altogether, while others suggest it would be best for him to stay on until the next party congress which would elect a new leader. This unusual dual leadership might further damage the Civic Democrat’s chances of catching up with their major rivals, the Social Democrats, who are leading the polls some sixty days ahead of the elections. But even if the Civic Democrats can effect a comeback it seems that Mirek Topolánek’s time in the top echelons of Czech politics has come to an end.