Kalousek takes over as head of the Christian Democrats to become third leader in four years

Miroslav Kalousek and Cyril Svoboda, photo: CTK

This past weekend saw the Czech Republic's Christian Democratic Party choose a new chairman in a relatively close race between front-runners Deputy Miroslav Kalousek and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who ran the party for the last two years. In the end Mr Svoboda failed to gain another mandate, with Mr Kalousek edging the former leader by 33 votes. The tally at the end of the day: 164 - 131. But, what do the results all mean? The Christian Democrats have now elected their third leader in four years. Not only that: Miroslav Kalousek is known for leaning further to the right than almost any of his predecessors, raising questions over new directions for the Christian Democratic Party and its future within the current Social-Democrat-led government. For some perspective Jan Velinger spoke to analyst Jiri Pehe.

Miroslav Kalousek and Cyril Svoboda,  photo: CTK
He began by asking him whether the Christian Democrats had always had this much trouble deciding upon a charismatic leader, as well as what kind of a choice they had made in Mr Kalousek.

"Certainly I think that the Christian Democrats have suffered from a lack of charismatic leaders ever since Josef Lux died in 1999 - the Christian Democrats have always had this kind of problem in their history, Josef Lux was an exception. Otherwise they were never known for producing charismatic personalities. On the other hand I think that what we witnessed in the struggle between Cyril Svoboda and Miroslav Kalousek was not really about charisma or leadership, it was more a battle about two currents in political thinking: one based more on ideas and ideals, and the other based on super-pragmatism, and the latter won."

What is the likely outcome for his party within the Social-Democrat-led government? Will there be some kind of an impact?

"I don't think that the Christian Democrats will attempt to leave the current ruling coalition because they know very well that under the current political situation they would not be in a better position. I think they will stay in the coalition, they know it's the best place for them. The Christian Democrats are known for trying to be in almost all ruling coalitions there have been, with the exception of the period between 1998 and 2002 when we had the Opposition Agreement (by which the minority Social Democrat government was tolerated by the right-of-centre Civic Democrats - ed. note). Otherwise they have basically been in every ruling coalition in the history of Czechoslovakia, as well as the Czech Republic."

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
All the same, given Mr Kalousek's leanings towards the political right, do you think we might see a paradigm shift come the national elections in 2006?

"If I wanted to be cynical I would argue that the shift will depend on who wins the next election. That means that if the conservative Civic Democrats win, than the Christian Democrats could follow them. On the other hand, if the fortunes of the Social Democrats improve, then the Christian Democrats can easily find a way to explain that it's better to stay together. In any case, I would not overestimate Mr Kalousek's proclaimed ideological leanings - I think that the Christian Democrats have proven again and again that they are a very pragmatic grouping, that their behaviour always depends on offers they get. Much will depend on strategy."