Coalition Public Affairs launch online vote for party leader

Foto: ČTK

The embattled junior coalition party, Public Affairs, has launched an online vote for the new party leader. Some 6,000 registered party supporters have until Monday to pick one of three candidates, including the incumbent chairman Radek John. But regardless of who becomes the new Public Affairs chairperson, the scandal-stricken party with dwindling approval ratings is likely to remain the weakest link of the Czech centre-right government.

Radek John, photo: CTK
In a video message on the Public Affairs’ website, incumbent chairman Radek John explains why he should be re-elected leader of the smallest coalition party. Mr John suggests the party continue pursuing its anti-corruption agenda, curb the waste of public money, and follow up on issues that gained the party seats in the lower house.

His rivals for the post – deputy chair Karolína Peake and a little-known MP, Dagmar Navrátilová, come up with strategies that only differ in the details. While Ms Navrátilová cautiously questions the party’s role in the government, deputy party chair Karolína Peake, if elected, wants to focus on strengthening the inner party structure and on building a clearer public profile of the party.

But none of the three candidates offer remedies to what’s been haunting Public Affairs in recent months: a non-transparent decision-making process and corruption within the party itself. Erik Best is a Prague-based US commentator.

Karolína Peake, Kateřina Klasnová, Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
“Ms Peake has definitely struck the right tone in saying that the party needs to clean itself up and to return to its basic promises of being the anti-corruption party. But then a document comes out in the very week of the election that suggests she was actively involved in organizing corruption in party funding. So it really makes you wonder what the new platform is going to be.”

The document from 2009 suggests that party leaders had agreed, once they gained power, to overprice public contracts and cash in difference. It was the latest in a long line of scandals that brought about a deep crisis within the government coalition. As a result, the unofficial Public Affairs leader, Vít Bárta, was forced to quit as transport minister, while official party chairman Radek John, had to step down as the minister of interior.

The party’s approval ratings dropped dramatically as a result, but commentator Erik Best is sceptical about the new leader’s chances to reverse the trend.

“I think the party can stabilize to a certain extent, but it’s going to stabilize on a much lower level. I don’t think they will be able to get back to the 7-, 9- or 11-percent approval ratings that it had in the past.

Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
“As far as the stability of the government is concerned: I think the general feeling – with of course no way to prove this – the general feeling is that maybe in June or so there will be a major shake-up and the government might be on its way out, the main reason being the situation within the Public Affairs party.”

There is another reason why the vote is of limited importance for the future of Public Affairs. Important decisions are made outside the party’s official structures, often in the apartment of party founder, sponsor and unofficial leader Vít Bárta. Mr Bárta has decided not to run for the official post as he would be an “easy target” ; but neither has het has shown any sign he is willing to give up his behind-closed-doors influence.