Press Review

Vladimir spidla, photo: CTK

"Lightning strike runs into problems", "Allied offensive slows down": those are two headlines in today's dailies that sum up recent developments in the US-led war against Iraq, with the papers offering the same front-page photo of refugees fleeing Iraq's southern city of Basra. Here in the Czech Republic the top story is Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's lean victory at his party's convention over the weekend - Mr Spidla was able to retain his Social Democrat chairmanship in spite of inner-party criticism to his leadership and a fair challenge from former Trade and Industry minister Jiri Rusnok. Mr Spidla is shown beaming in MLADA FRONTA DNES, but the question is, how long can the smiles last?

"Lightning strike runs into problems", "Allied offensive slows down": those are two headlines in today's dailies that sum up recent developments in the US-led war against Iraq, with the papers offering the same front-page photo of refugees fleeing Iraq's southern city of Basra. Here in the Czech Republic the top story is Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's lean victory at his party's convention over the weekend - Mr Spidla was able to retain his Social Democrat chairmanship in spite of inner-party criticism to his leadership and a fair challenge from former Trade and Industry minister Jiri Rusnok. Mr Spidla is shown beaming in MLADA FRONTA DNES, but the question is, how long can the smiles last?

Vladimir spidla, photo: CTK
PRAVO, for one, writes that the problems for the largest ruling coalition party continue: since coming to power the Social Democrats have been unable to push through promised social policies, were unable to decide on a presidential candidate they could all support, and have been plagued by political in-fighting, leading to an overall appearance of confusion and disunity that has led to a marked drop in voter popularity. PRAVO writes that immediately after Mr Spidla's re-election, delegates in the back halls were saying that in six months time the prime minister's problems could resurface again, presumeably with a vengeance.

To sum up: the party leadership has received a yellow card from its delegates, the execution has been postponed, writes PRAVO. MLADA FRONTA DNES put it another way: "Never change a losing team". For now, speculation over if and when a Social Democrat favourite - Interior Minister Stanislav Gross - will replace the embattled Mr Spidla, has been put on the back burner. But, the thought will remain at the back of many delegates' minds if Mr Spidla is unable to strengthen his party's influence within the government.

Meanwhile, the future of the Social Democratic Party's leadership was not the only issue decided at the convention over the weekend: delegates also passed a 'resolution' condemning the US-led war on Iraq. LIDOVE NOVINY notes that the resolution outlined that the war "was preventable", saying that "the attack on Iraq without a UN mandate had gone against international law". Interestingly, the resolution changes nothing in the official government stance, which showed support for the US by committing the Czechs' anti-chemical unit to Kuwait, to assist ground troops if chemical or biological weapons were used by Iraq.

PRAVO notes that the subject of the war brought out the most intense emotions at the entire Social Democrats' convention, including loud whistling from many delegates during a speech by one of the few speakers who did show support for the US-led attack. PRAVO commentator Alexandr Mitrofanov writes "the discussion about the war was one of the few moments one had the feeling one was at a convention of the country's strongest political party, in which one saw opinions put forward based on both rational argument and emotions". He goes on to criticise Mr Spidla for abstaining from voting on the resolution, saying "how typical" of the prime minister's political style. Meanwhile, there was no doubt about the president of the UN General Assembly Jan Kavan's position: he's shown in PRAVO displaying a t-shirt that reads quite simply: No war on Iraq.