CSSD to carry on regardless after election defeat

Leaders of the ruling Social Democrats met at the party's Prague headquarters this weekend after what was probably their worst month in power. The Social Democrats, who formed a minority cabinet in 1998 after inconclusive general elections, emerged from recent Senate and regional elections battered and bruised. They've been effectively marginalised in the upper house after losing eight seats, and did equally badly in elections for new regional parliaments: the governing party was defeated in all 13 regions being contested. You might expect such poor results to produce some radical surgery. Well, think again. Rob Cameron reports:

Party leader Milos Zeman announced at the weekend that the party would continue as normal, despite two disastrous elections. The party formed a minority government in the summer of 1998 after signing the infamous 'opposition agreement' with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats. Under this power-sharing pact the Civic Democrats agreed to support crucial government legislation in exchange for senior positions in parliament and changes to the Constitution. Analysts warned then that Social Democrat voters would desert the party in droves: the recent election results seem to have born this out. But also to blame, says commentator Tomas Pecina, is Mr Zeman's abrasive personal style: The Social Democrats's deputy leader Petr Lachnit announced that the leadership had full confidence in Mr Zeman's performance as Prime Minister and party leader. Mr Zeman, who announced earlier this year that he would step down as leader next April, told reporters that the elections were a warning for his party, but not a vote of no confidence. He added that a decent political party did not tear up agreements with its partners when things started going badly, and said the Social Democrats would not go into opposition. But some, including commentator Tomas Pecina, say by refusing to make fundamental changes the Social Democrats will face real disaster when the next general election comes around: