Martin Bursík’s new party will attract ‘politically homeless’ voters, says Jiří Pehe

Martin Bursík, photo: CTK

Last week, former Green Party chairman Martin Bursík announced that he was leaving the Greens to found a new party. A mere three days later he had collected enough signatures to apply for the registration of the Liberal Environmental Party (LES). Although the party has not been formally recognized yet or outlined its priorities, there is a great deal of speculation about its place in the Czech political landscape and its chances in the upcoming general elections. We asked political analyst Jiří Pehe who the party’s potential voters could be.

Martin Bursík, photo: CTK
“I think that this is a party, or political project, that basically is trying to speak to the right-of-center liberal voters. And I don’t think that the program is so important at this point, because, of course, Mr. Bursík is associated with environmentalist policies and ecology, but he is also known as a former minister in the Topolánek government, which was a right of center government. So, I think that the main idea for establishing this party is that there is a group of liberal voters, who have certain ecological priorities, believe in environmentalist policies and at the same time they don’t have anyone on the right to vote for.”

When Mr. Bursík left the Green Party, he said that he is leaving because he feels the party has gone too much to the left, do you think then that these two parties – the Greens and the Liberal Environmental Party – in a sense complementing each other, or will they be competing for voters?

“Firstly, in my opinion, the Green Party has not shifted to the left so dramatically. And it seems to me that given that context, Mr. Bursík’s departure is more a strategic move. He, in my opinion, simply wants to be the head of a political party. And in the past few years in the Green Party, he was not playing the kind of role he probably envisages for himself.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“We have to agree with Bursík that the Green Party has shifted slightly to the left, but that’s a natural home for any Green Party in Europe. And I think the fact that the Czech Green Party under Mr. Bursík was part of a conservative government was an aberration of sorts.

“Mr. Bursík may attract some voters who would otherwise vote for the Green Party, but, in general, I think that most of the potential electorate of the Green Party is now really more to the left and there will be basically two different groups of voters voting for these parties and there will not be a huge overlap.”

So, the voter pool that Mr. Bursík can be hoping to draw from are maybe the frustrated voters of the leading right-of-center parties like the Civic Democrats or TOP 09…

“There has always been some space in Czech politics for a liberal party. There have been different parties in the past, such as the Union of Freedom and the Civic Democratic Alliance and some other groups. And actually the Green Party under Mr. Bursík’s leadership was trying to fill this space as well.

Jiří Pehe, photo: Katarína Brezovská
“There is a group of liberal voters who are to the right of the political center who really right now don’t have any political home, because the Civic Democratic party is in turmoil and TOP 09 have move more towards conservative politics, which are really not in line with what liberal voters prefer.

“So, there is some space for Mr. Bursík, and he will be mainly hunting or fishing in the area where some of the politically homeless voters who used to be part of the so-called truth-and-love milieu – the followers of President Havel – are. So he will try to get support from these voters, whether he will succeed or not is of course a big question.”