Pre-election campaigning takes aggressive tone towards marginal social groups

Photo: CTK

One aspect of campaigning for local elections this autumn has been a noticeably aggressive tone against groups on the margins of society. While a right-wing proposal to move homeless people to a camp on the outskirts of Prague has drawn a great deal of comment, posters for left-wing parties declare “zero tolerance for junkies” or “get rid of the homeless”. But is this just the kind of tough talk characteristic of politicians ahead of elections? That’s a question we put to political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Social Democrats' billboard - 'Why should I feel sorry that I am a part of the national majority?',  photo: CTK
“I think they are really trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator because they think that at the local, municipal level, this is one of the approaches that could help them win some voters. But at the same time I think that the largest parties especially are betrying their traditional electorate by doing this.”

Which parties and in what way?

“Well I think the Social Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Party, regardless of what we think of them, are basically modern political parties: the Social Democrats are, in a way, a typical European social democratic party, the Civic Democrats a typical conservative party. And such parties in Europe do not use the kinds of fear mongering strategies and tactics that we see in this campaign. So it is indeed partly a result of the fact that these upcoming elections will be municipal elections, and they are appealing to a different kind of voter than usual.”

Another thing we’re seeing is that the parties are attacking each other less in their political advertisements. Do think it’s that same kind of negativity that we’re used to but creeping in in a different way?

“Well I think that most political parties have decided to abandon the kind of strategy that obviously didn’t work before parliamentary elections in May. It seems that Czech voters are fed up with this kind of approach, and the parties are trying to refrain from such strategies, at least in these upcoming elections. But at the same they are using new populist strategies such as attacks on minorities and socially weak groups, and that is new to some extent in Czech politics and we have to see if that will work or not for them.”

That’s exactly my last question: do you think it will work or do you think it will backfire on them?

“I personally think it will not really work for these parties that are using strategies of populism and creating fears, simply because they are appealing to the kind of voter who will not turn out to vote in the fall elections. This kind of strategy works with people with lower educations, who are themselves socially weak, and I think that such voters will simply not come to the polls in the fall. So I don’t see why political parties think that this could bring them increases in their popular support.”