Public Affairs seeks way ahead after electoral defeat

Radek John, photo: CTK

As the dust settles on the weekend’s local and Senate elections, one loser stands out: the smallest party in the coalition government, Public Affairs. Just five months after making a breakthrough in national elections, Public Affairs appears to have suffered an equally dramatic setback. We look at the party’s election debacle and prospects.

Radek John, photo: CTK
Public Affairs’ party leader Radek John admitted flaws and failure, above all in not getting a better result in local council elections in Prague, a party stronghold and its birthplace nine years ago, after the results came in.

In the capital, Public Affairs won just 5.6 percent of the vote, around half the level scored during May’s general elections. Across the country, the results were even worse, with around 3.0 percent of local council votes in spite of the party fielding candidates for those seats nationwide for the first time.

In next weekend’s second round of upcoming Senate elections the party has little to look forward to. It has just one candidate who made it into the second round run offs in the 27 seats up for grabs, and he trails a Social Democrat.

Party leader John has attempted to sweeten the bitter disappointment from the results. He said that Public Affairs’ rocketing success could not continue and he claimed the latest national campaign has set the foundations for further success.

Nonetheless, the party will be holding an inquest and attempt to plot the path ahead. John — who has plummeted in national popularity polls and been criticized for his performance as Interior Minister — looks like he will have to shoulder a good deal of the blame.

Jan Hartl is a sociologist and head of the polling agency STEM. He says Public Affairs’ popularity was slipping even before May’s general elections and the reason for the sharp fall is fairly simple.

“The problem of Public Affairs is the fact that that their electorate is a conglomerate of various groups and their support was to a large extent formed by protest voters. Now that they are part of the government they have apparently lost part of the protest vote.”

The simple solution might appear to be leaving the three-party coalition government, though that would rob it of its majority and might result in Public Affairs being branded as irresponsible. For the moment though the party looks as though it will stay on in power, though it will probably try to distance itself from unpopular policies. Leader John had complained that his party was caught in a trap when it appeared to take a lead over the last months in pushing through spending cuts and reforms.

Longer term, Jan Hartl says Public Affairs faces a fundamental challenge to recast itself and reach out to a wider section of the electorate than just protest voters.

Photo: CTK
“If they want to survive on the public scene they will have to think out a long term strategy. They did well in the May elections, they aroused people’s interest. But they will more or less have to reconstitute their electorate. They cannot rely so much on protest votes. And piece by piece they will have to build up their electorate anew.”

The good news for Public Affairs is that it has some time for the makeover. The next elections, for regional councils, are two years off. But another failure would certainly brand the party as a flash in the pan.