Dawn movement MPs rebel against populist leader Okamura

Tomio Okamura, photo: CTK

The upstart Dawn movement, the smallest political group in the Chamber of Deputies, appears to have collapsed over a matter of days. Though cracks were apparent already last month, only now a majority of its 14 MPs rebelled against leader Tomio Okamura. The MPs are unsatisfied with the apparent direction Dawn has taken and have expressed the desire to found a new party taking inspiration from a questionable source: the extreme-right National Front.

Tomio Okamura,  photo: CTK
I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe about the developments.

“I think what is at stake is something we have seen many times in recent political history, which is the collapse of a political movement which was based on one person, a charismatic leader. We often see conflicts grow between the leader and those who used him to make it, so to speak, into high politics.”

Dawn is known for promoting direct democracy and the 12 MPs or so who have challenged Mr Okamura say they are just exercising their democratic right to try and change the direction of the movement. Is that what is going on?

“I think that the people who have challenged Mr Okamura have their own political agenda, which is not necessarily the same as his. When he went into politics, he put forward as the main idea the introduction, as much as possible, of direct democracy. Unfortunately, he shifted to a largely xenophobic and slightly racist message regarding the Roma and immigrants. And that attracted some who see that the main objective of this movement is perhaps not direct democracy but something like what we see in France like Marine Le Pen’s National Front. They are calling for reforming Dawn as a party inspired by the National Front; my feeling is, however, is this is ideological posturing and what is at stake are individuals, who used Okamura to get where they are, wanting to play greater roles.”

Deputies Marek Černoch and Tomio Okamura,  photo: Archive of the Úsvit přímé demokracie
Is there fertile ground in the Czech Republic for this anti-immigration or anti-Muslim message, either from Mr Okamura or from a new grouping? I ask because protest parties often come out of nowhere, remain one election cycle and disappear…

“I don’t think there is much ground for this message here and the reason is simple: for one, there are no strong problems here with immigration on the whole and, for example, the Muslim community is very small. So the things which some of these MPs want to "fight against’’ are imaginary. And it is very hard to keep such a message going if you are fighting against something which isn't real which you can oppose.”

If this split does lead to the eventual end of Dawn, where will that leave Tomio Okamura?

“I think that he has a much better chance of surviving politically than the MPs who have come out against him. Dawn was his project, he was the person that people voted for. By contrast, no one really knows the others, what they stand for, and politically I think they are doomed. I don’t see much of a future for them.”