New Christian Democrat skipper promises change of course

Cyril Svoboda

This weekend members of the Christian Democrats, the strongest party in the rather shaky Four-Party Coalition, made a crucial and far-reaching decision. Delegates to the party's conference in the town of Jihlava elected Cyril Svoboda as their new leader, choosing reform and a new style of leadership over the conservative values of the old guard. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

Cyril Svoboda
After months of petty squabbling it was clear to everyone that this weekend's leadership contest would not only decide the future of the Christian Democrats themselves, but also seal the fate of the Four-Party Coalition, and decide its chances in next year's parliamentary elections. Even as the vote in Jihlava took place, commentators were speculating as to whether the coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties would see the year out. It may have been this factor which contributed to the party's decision to elect a man who promised a new style of leadership, greater openness and the art of compromise.

Jan Kasal
Pitted against the conservative values of his political rival Jan Kasal, Cyril Svoboda's vision was bold and ambitious, but it gave greater promise of political survival. I spoke to the newly-elected leader - in his car on his way to South Moravia, home turf of his rival Jan Kasal - and asked him to define this new style of leadership:

"The new style is to be very correct to the people. What we think, what we say and what we do must be in full harmony."

You won also thanks to votes from Moravia where rank and file members are disgruntled that Jan Kasal failed to consult them on key policy issues. Are you planning to change the style of communication?

"Yes, of course. We need to improve relations and communication between the party leadership and rank and file members. I am going to visit all the regions, speak with party members and improve communication channels."

You've hinted that the four party coalition is not ready to merge. What are your current priorities for the Christian Democrats? Do you feel a need to improve relations with the other three parties of the four party coalition?

"My idea is that there is no need to merge the coalition of four into one party but we do need to improve cooperation between the coalition partners. Of course we will have to speak about how to improve the visibility and the credibility of the shadow cabinet."

Do you feel the need to improve the party's image in the eyes of the public?

"We have to address the public and that is the reason why I am stressing the need for direct democracy, for referenda, a direct election of the President and other elements of direct democracy...We need a real linkage between civic society and political parties."

If there was one decisive factor that led to Jan Kasal's defeat - and which secured Cyril Svoboda's victory - it was communication. The outgoing chairman paid the price for having ignored rank-and-file members in his native Moravia. Communication and the ability to compromise is also what the Four-Party Coalition's potential partners in government value most about the new Christian Democrat leader, so much so that commentators say he threatens to put the Four-Party Coalition leader Karel Kuhnl in the shade, and also take the wind out of the sails of an emerging party of intellectuals which was planning to promise the electorate the very same things they just heard from Mr Svoboda.

Today Cyril Svoboda has reason to congratulate himself but, as commentators point out, he has made a great many promises that will be difficult to keep. A great deal depends on how much support he'll get from members of his own party and the remaining three parties in the Four-Party Coalition. And whether the defeated faction around Jan Kasal decides to rock the boat. One thing is clear - this is the last chance for the Christian Democrats and the Four-Party Coalition to make good if they are to stand a real chance in next year's elections. They know all too well that if the Christian Democrats go down, they're pull their three allies down with them.