Paroubek leads remarkable Social Democrat recovery

Premiér Jiří Paroubek, foto:ČTK

Earlier this year the governing Social Democratic Party was in crisis, with a large fall-off in support after then prime minister Stanislav Gross became embroiled in scandal. But now, according to a fresh opinion poll, the Social Democrats have made a remarkable recovery, with the backing of almost 23 percent of Czech voters.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
A few months ago the Social Democrats looked like a spent force, with just under 15 percent voter support. But the rot was stopped when Jiri Paroubek replaced Stanislav Gross as prime minister a little over two months ago.

Mr Paroubek was handed the top job just a year after leaving Prague City Hall for national politics, and the position of local development minister. He soon settled in as prime minister, coming across as a can-do guy, a dealmaker who would talk to everybody, even the Communist Party.

The prime minister has not been afraid to put his foot down either, standing up to President Vaclav Klaus over foreign policy. And his call for police chief Jiri Kolar to step down was heeded.

Mr Paroubek has also impressed on the international stage, with a string of high profile trips already under his belt. On his travels his ability to speak English has given him an automatic advantage over his predecessor Mr Gross, who often looked uncomfortable at international gatherings.

After the latest opinion Faktum Invenio poll put the Social Democrats second after the Civic Democrats (on 34 percent) and back in front of the Communists (just under 20), Mr Paroubek suggested on Thursday that his party could form the next, possibly minority government.

One thing is clear - the current three-party coalition will not survive next summer's elections, as the smallest partner, the Freedom Union face electoral oblivion. The right-wing party polled less than 1 percent, far short of the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

While Jiri Paroubek is set to be the Social Democrats so-called election leader next year, Stanislav Gross remains party chairman. Mr Paroubek's success so far has led to increased calls from within the Social Democrats for him to replace Mr Gross as party head. It is hard to imagine how the latter - so unpopular with voters - can stay on in the party's top post.