Former Social Democrat chairman and PM leaves party ranks

Milos Zeman passing the billboard with Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

The man who brought the Social Democratic Party to power nine years ago, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, has announced he is leaving the party ranks. Mr Zeman says his sources tell him a lawsuit which has been filed against him for signing a disadvantageous contract with a Prague lawyer on behalf of the party in the 1990s was initiated by current Social Democrat chairman Jiri Paroubek. Mr Paroubek denies any connection with the lawsuit and says Milos Zeman is simply trying to influence this coming weekend's party congress which will elect a new leadership.

Milos Zeman passing the billboard with Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
Radio Prague spoke to political commentator Petr Just and asked him whether Milos Zeman still had such a strong influence over the Social Democrats.

"Well, first of all, it definitely will influence the party convention and I see it as very natural since Milos Zeman is an important person within the Social Democratic Party and was an important person during the 1990s and as it is not usual that a party chairman leaves a political party the way Mr Zeman did. Concerning Mr Zeman's influence over the Social Democrats, there definitely is something like a 'Zeman wing' within the party. However, I think that this wing is in a minority currently and has no real influence. Some of the people closest to Milos Zeman, including for example the vice-chairman Zdenek Skromach, were quite surprised by Mr Zeman's action, so I think after this step the 'Zeman wing' will even weaken."

Milos Zeman retired from politics five years ago, then he ran for president unsuccessfully in 2003 but he never really disappeared from the media and he kept commenting on the developments in his party. Could this be the end of Milos Zeman?

"First of all, I think the way Milos Zeman chose to stay in politics by commenting on the developments in the Social Democratic Party from his summer house in Vysocina - I would say it was not very fortunate he did it this way. By leaving the party Mr Zeman broke the official ties he had with the Social Democrats but I still think he will continue to comment on politics. I think it will still be quite a hot issue for the media to have comments from Milos Zeman on current issues and current developments."

Milos Zeman, photo: CTK
Mr Zeman is sometimes being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. How likely is it now that he has broken ties with his party that he will run or even succeed?

"To be successful in presidential elections in a system where the president is elected by parliament requires having some parliamentary support. And breaking ties with one of the most successful political parties in our party system actually weakened his chances of running for president. We also have to take into account that Milos Zeman announced that he will not seek any elected office, that he will not return to active politics. And whatever we think of Milos Zeman, one thing we have to admit: whatever he said he did, whatever he promised he fulfilled. So I think on his part there will be no attempt to run for president again."