New party TOP 09 elects leadership with Karel Schwarzenberg as chairman

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK

The new Czech political party TOP 09 held its first ever conference in Prague over the weekend, formally establishing itself on the country’s political scene. Senator and former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg was unanimously voted in as party head, while former finance minister and the key figure behind the party’s foundation became its first deputy chair.

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
The hunting fanfare of the princely house of Schwarzenberg was the summons at the first congress of the new Czech political party TOP 09 at Prague’s Top Hotel over the weekend.

Senator and former foreign minister and Karel Schwarzenberg was indeed the uncontested choice for the party leader. He received 163 out of 164 votes, the only missing ballot being his own. After the party’s first leadership was elected on Saturday, Mr Schwarzenberg admitted he felt somewhat uneasy.

“I am a little embarrassed myself, and I’m almost ashamed on such occasions. I see myself very critically and when other people applaud me, it feels strange, and it’s a little embarrassing.”

Embarrassing or not, the conference went smoothly for TOP 09. MP and former finance minister Miroslav Kalousek, who almost single-handedly founded the party in June this year, was elected the first deputy chair – also unanimously. Although the party has not yet unveiled a detailed programme, Karel Schwarzenberg told the conference what the party’s main objective was.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
“One of the goals of TOP 09 is of course to tell the truth to our fellow citizens. We will not promise anything unrealistic and we will not paint a rosy picture. We will instead tell people to expect a time when we all have to work hard, that it’s going to be more difficult than in the last two decades, but that we are able to get through.”

Founded as a right-wing split from the Christian Democrats, the party’s first major success was getting the popular Karel Schwarzenberg to be the leader. That and the party’s conservative, pro-European and anti-populist message has earned TOP 09 growing support among the voters. Jiří Pehe is a political analyst.

“Although the party consists mainly of old of faces and politicians who have reinvented themselves and now are members or officials of the new party, I think that overall the party brings fresh air into Czech politics simply because they insist that the Czech Republic needs to adopt certain prudence with regards to spending, budget deficits and so on.”

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
Analyses show that many people who now support the new party voted in the past for the Civic Democrats who have dominated the centre-right politics. In a poll published in November, TOP 09 scored some 15 percent of public support, suggesting it could become the third largest party on the Czech political scene.

Before that happens, however, TOP 09 first needs to come up with a detailed political programme and of course undergo a trial by fire in the next general elections in May 2010.