Civic Democrats unite behind Klaus, but split on PM Topolanek’s role in coalition

Vaclav Klaus and Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

The governing Civic Democrats held their national congress in Prague on Saturday. The conference, which is normally viewed as a forum for debate, served more this year as a reflection upon the party’s last few months in government. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek called for more party unity, but praised the Civic Democrats for unanimously backing current president Vaclav Klaus in his bid to win another term. Mr Topolanek set out to display his strong leadership at the conference, but there could be a few cracks showing:

Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek took the opportunity to reflect upon his last six months in office at the Civic Democrats national congress over the weekend. His conclusion – that he was 90% happy with his cabinet and the coalition that the ODS had formed with the Christian Democrats and the Greens.

The prime minister made much of the fact that all of the Civic Democrats’ deputies and senators had pledged their support for current president Vaclav Klaus in next year’s presidential elections. But could this display of party unity, which Mr Topolanek drew so much attention to, actually spell trouble for the leader of the Civic Democrats? Political analyst Jiri Pehe thinks so:

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
“Mr Topolanek is really in a difficult position with regard to Mr Klaus, because if he gets Mr Klaus re-elected, he may be in the same kind of political danger as if he doesn’t get him re-elected. If Mr Klaus is not re-elected then of course, some people in the Civic Democratic Party will try to get rid of Mr Topolanek because they will blame him for not doing enough to elect Mr Klaus. But on the other hand, if Mr Klaus is elected again, it is well known that Mr Topolanek is not his favourite politician, and it seems to me that Mr Topolanek will be in great danger.”

Pressure is mounting on Mr Topolanek to exert his influence on the Civic Democrats’ coalition partners – that is the Christian Democrats and the Greens - to back Mr Klaus for the presidency as well. But Mr Topolanek seems reticent to do so:

“Mr Topolanek knows that it is really counterproductive to pressurize the Greens and Mr Bursik, simply because Mr Klaus is not the kind of politician that the Greens could ever vote for. Mr Klaus frequently describes the Greens as eco-terrorists and is a proponent of politics which are very alien to the Green Party, and in my opinion, it is very clear that the Green Party, and maybe even the Christian Democrats, will not vote for Mr Klaus.”

Pavel Bem,  photo: CTK
One of the loudest voices to be heard on the subject belongs to Prague Mayor Pavel Bem. I asked Mr Pehe why he thought Mr Bem was being so vocal:

“I think that Mr Bem basically is now prepared to take over the Civic Democratic Party, and his appeals to Mr Topolanek to get Mr Klaus re-elected are just part of his strategy. I think that he is preparing the ground for himself, just in case Mr Klaus does not get re-elected. In this case, then Mr Bem together with Mr Klaus and his followers in the Civic Democratic Party, Mr Bem would launch an attack on Mr Topolanek.”

At the congress itself, Mr Bem used his speech to focus on party unity and better communication with the media. But with the Prague mayor having suggested that Mr Topolanek’s cabinet could fall if Mr Klaus is not re-elected, there could be a storm brewing.