PM says he wants to lead Social Democrats into election battle

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek

After just a few weeks in office, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has made a bid to lead the ailing Social Democrats to the 2006 general elections. He made his ambition public on the day that opinion polls showed his popularity rating had soared by 20 percent since taking office.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek is a man whom few people would have recognized in the street just a few weeks ago. Yet in a relatively short time he has managed to quell opposition from rebellious party back benchers and secure a confidence vote in his Cabinet. His strongest credential - a pragmatic attitude - has enabled him to smooth over skirmishes within the Cabinet and establish dialogue with both opposition parties. There are commentators who claim that Mr. Paroubek's "I will deal with anyone attitude" will surely backfire, but in the wake of a prolonged political crisis, Mr. Paroubek's pragmatism may be exactly what Czechs want to see. So is Jiri Paroubek the man to restore trust in the politically battered Social Democratic Party? A question I put to political analyst Vladimira Vladimira Dvorakova:

"I think that maybe at this moment he is the right man. He is not a very charismatic leader, not the kind of leader you'd expect the public to love at any point in time. But I think that people now prefer the kind of politician who'll get on with the job. Of course, much depends on his performance as Prime Minister. But now the public wants someone who will do the job and do it well. And also someone who is able so communicate when there are problems. After that political crisis we had and the irrational behaviour of most politicians he suddenly introduced a pragmatic way of debate, a way of finding compromise solutions."

Stanislav Gross
Jiri Paroubek is not the only candidate for the job. Deputy chairman Bohuslav Sobotka and party chairman Stanislav Gross are also expected to seek the post of election leader. No matter who they see as the best man for the job, commentators agree on one thing: it should not be the former PM Stanislav Gross. The scandal over his private finances led to the fall of his Cabinet and nearly cost the party its place in government. Opinion polls suggest that since resigning as prime minister his popularity rating has dropped even further, and many Social Democrats now see him as a liability. As a result of the Gross scandal the party's support rating has dropped to an all time low and there are many who feel that making a come-back within twelve months would be nothing short of a miracle. However, Prof. Dvorakova argues that with the right man at the helm, the party's chances are not as bleak as they might seem.

"All the economic indicators are very, very good. Unemployment is dropping. Economically, this cabinet is very successful. So you have this paradox - a cabinet with very low credit but very good results. And I think that if they stop washing their dirty linen in public, thrashing out their problems in the media, if they can unify and present the results they have achieved then they stand a good chance in the elections - there's still twelve months to go."