Czech Social Democrats seek new direction after electoral debacle

Party meeting 2017, photo: Filip Jandourek, Czech Radio

The former leading Czech government party, the Social Democrats, faces a crunch meeting over the weekend to choose a new leadership and try and patch the party up after disastrous election results last October. Key issues will be whether to go into government with ANO’s Andrej Babiš and what approach to take with the recently re-elected Czech president.

Party meeting 2017,  photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
From 50 to 15 in four years. That was the shattering readjustment in terms of parliamentary seats that the Social Democrats faced following last October’ s elections to the 200-seat lower house. The former leading government party was reduced to a shadow of itself and the inquests quickly began.

In truth, the Social Democrats, who picked up just 7.27 percent of the vote in the last elections, have been on a longer term decline. At their peak election form in 2006 they were winning around a third of the votes and just over a third of parliamentary seats. Now the party appears a bit player in a very fractured political landscape where former traditional big parties have been humbled by newcomers and face a question mark over their future.

And ahead of Sunday’s special party meeting in the north eastern of Hradec Králové, the Social Democrats also appear fractured with around half a dozen candidates running for the top party post, many with strong regional backing. But many expect the main duel to be between the acting party leader and former minister of interior, Milan Chovanec, and former lower house speaker, Jan Hamáček. But disillusion with the former leadership is so strong that some analysts suggest a dark horse candidate could emerge.

Vladimíra Dvořáková | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio
And with a lot pf speeches and procedural formalities to be completed in just one day, political commentator Vladimíra Dvořáková says that apart from the leadership election a clearcut party position over where to go from here might simply not be possible.

ʺIn fact we do not suppose there will be some strict reorientation of the party although there could be some discussion, maybe some position, dealing with the ability to contact the Cabinet or form a coalition government with Mr. [Andrej] Babiš and his movement ANO.ʺ

There is, she says, pressure to form such a coalition but the party congress and leadership contest could also give a verdict on what ties should be former with former Social Democratic leader and recently re-elected president, Miloš Zeman.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK
ʺThere will be some pressure on anyone to try to find some collaboration or to renew the former coalition that was Mr. Babiš, the Social Democratic Party, and the Christian Democrats. It is possible.

ʺBut what is important is whether there will be a strong influence of the president. That means whether the Social democrats will be something like a presidential party through which president Miloš Zeman will be able to influence everyday politics. Because according to the Czech Constitution, the Czech president is rather weak. But having his party or support in parliament means that he can be much stronger and influence politics in many ways.ʺ

The two men with much at stake from Sunday’s party meeting, prime minister Babiš and president Zeman, are due to meet late Sunday to jointly digest the results.