Green party leader seeks stronger mandate ahead of crucial votes in Parliament

Martin Bursík

Following months of infighting in the Green Party, one of the three parties in the Czech coalition government, its leader Martin Bursík has brought the battle out into the open. At a meeting of the party leadership on Wednesday night he pushed through a proposal for an extraordinary party conference to take place at the start of September which is expected to elect a new leadership, change the party’s statutes and redefine its priorities.

Martin Bursík
The leader of the smallest party in government has not been having an easy time of late. For weeks critics within the party have accused him of undemocratic practices – of running the party as he would a family firm - and of betraying the Greens’ policy programme by making too many concessions to the strongest party in government – the centre-right Civic Democrats. There were even calls for him to resign some time ago and under pressure from both his coalition partners and party opponents Mr. Bursik has now decided to force the issue, getting the party to reaffirm his mandate ahead of the autumn local and senate elections. If he is re-elected he is determined to clip his opponents’ wings by changing the party’s statutes in such a way that would prevent what he calls “a second centre of power in the party’s parliamentary club”. Political analyst Vladimíra Dvořáková says that while Mr. Bursík’s mandate should be stronger the decision to change the party’s statutes could easily backfire.

“The Greens are deep in a crisis and one of the reasons for this crisis is that the statutes of the party do not clearly define the decision-making processes. And that weakens the position of the party leader not only inside the party but with regard to his coalition partners. It is difficult to be a partner in government when you are not sure that your decisions will be accepted, when they may be challenged by another power-centre in the party. So that weakens the party’s position in government. But the proposed change of statutes could prove dangerous because many party members could conclude that this will diminish their rights and their ability to influence decision-making and it could lead to a split within the party.”

The infighting within the party is not just due to its unclear statutes however. When the Greens entered the centre-right coalition it was clear that they would have to make compromises and some things have been difficult to swallow. The upcoming vote on the US radar is a case in point. The fact that the prime minister does not appear to be ruling out nuclear power as an energy source in the long-term perspective is another. And there are many such controversies. Vladimíra Dvořáková again:

“There are really people in the party who are opposed to being in the governing coalition, people who are unhappy about the fact that the Green Party is helping fulfill a right-wing policy programme. The problem is there are different streams and different attitudes within the party and there are no “core” voters that the party could be connected with. So I think it is really important to re-build the party, to create a system that would work. On the other hand, that will not be easy because the Greens have always had less party discipline than the members of other parties.”

Although the highly individualistic character of the Greens –was something that helped them win public favour and seats in Parliament – it is not making their life easy in the coalition government where the prime minister wants a reliable ally. Ahead of some crucial decision making in the lower house Mr. Bursík wants a stronger mandate and he wants the party to redefine its policy priorities but the question could be put more simply : two years after joining the coalition is the Green Party prepared to continue paying the price for its place in government?