Political commentator Jiří Pehe: Duchcov coalition could seriously damage the Social Democrats

Jiří Pehe, photo: Šárka Ševčíková

The situation in Duchcov, north Bohemia, where the Social Democrats have entered into a coalition with the ultra-right Workers Social Justice Party and the Communists and its possible implications for the Social Democratic Party have become a hotly debated topic both in political circles and the media. Party leader Bohuslav Sobotka has expressed grave concern regarding the latest developments which he described as “wholly unacceptable” and has made it clear he would fight to have the local branch of the Social Democratic Party scrapped. I asked political commentator Jiří Pehe how important it is for the Social Democrat leader to win this particular battle.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
“Well, I think it is extremely important for Mr. Sobotka to win this particular battle because a democratic party such as the Social Democrats with a long tradition in the Czech Republic and a certain profile cannot afford to be perceived by the public as a party that enters into a coalition with right-wing extremists. I think the party already damaged itself a bit when it created a number of coalitions with the Communist Party after the regional elections two years ago and this would be another step that I think could really damage the image of the party. So Mr. Sobotka really needs to win this battle or at least to convince the public that he has done his best to prevent this coalition.”

How do you interpret the regional leadership’s decision to come out in support of this coalition and defy the prime minister?

“Well, I am afraid that the Social Democratic Party has many different layers and especially in some regions, such as the northern Bohemian region and some other socially problematic areas, the local and regional Social Democrats quite often sympathize with the views of some of the extreme right politicians with regard to minorities and especially the Roma minority in those areas and they pander to the lowest possible denominator to attract voters. And I think this is part of this strategy where the local Social Democrat leaders do not want to be seen as not really understanding the problems of the lower class local population which quite often is in conflict with the local Roma population.”

Is Mr. Sobotka strong enough to win this battle? Does he have enough support on the national level?

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“I think that on the national level he has enough support, the question is whether the leadership of the Social Democratic Party has sufficiently strong tools to deal with the regional leadership. They can of course abolish a local organization of the party but when they get into conflict with one of the regional leaderships of the party then the issue is much more complicated. So how this will be played out really depends on a large extent on the statutes of the Social Democratic Party and the ability of the leadership to use the internal democratic mechanisms and decision-making mechanisms to deal with this effectively. “