Social Democrats discuss need for modernisation at national party convention

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

The country's second biggest party, the Social Democratic Party, has started its annual three day national convention. For the first time in nine years, it meets as an opposition party following the right-of-centre Civic Democrats' general election victory last year. Besides the election of a new leadership, the Social Democrats have many other topics on the agenda, including the party's modernisation plans and next year's presidential election. Delegates may also discuss a lawsuit the party is facing for failing to pay close to 20 billion crowns in unpaid fees. I spoke to political commentator Vladimira Dvorakova about the party's future:

Photo: CTK
"The Social Democratic Party doesn't have a very good image. There were many internal conflicts and there were many scandals that were connected with police investigations and allegations of corruption. But I think that the main problem is that there is no real understanding of what the programme of the party is in this new world, in the process of globalisation. It is necessary to find a new approach and with the reforms in public finances and pension and health reforms, the social tension will grow in the future. That's quite clear. So, the Social Democrats will have to search for a modern answer and find ways of getting new supporters and new activists because it sometimes looks like it's a party of the retired people."

A serious problem that the party is facing is the fact that it is being sued for almost 20 billion crowns in unpaid fees and - in the worst case scenario - could even face bankruptcy. Could these plans of changing the face of the party be part of a bigger plan to form an entirely new party altogether?

"I don't think that there's a possibility of forming a new party but the question of bankruptcy is a problem that is a very bad situation for the Social Democrats because the financial situation can be very bad and it's very difficult to launch any campaigns or activities without having any money."

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
The presidential elections will be held next year and current head of state Vaclav Klaus will most probably run for another term. Now the Social Democrats are hoping to put forward their own candidate and current party leader Jiri Paroubek is even taking the radical step to propose that party MPs and Senators are prohibited from giving Mr Klaus their vote...

"It's a little bit funny because the Social Democrats very often pass these resolutions and prohibit something and then nothing can happen because it's really up to the MPs and Senators how they will vote because it's a secret vote. But if the Social Democrats should decide to put forward their own candidate who is very Social Democratic I don't think that they stand a chance at getting support.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
If they were involved in a broader coalition with a personality that would be acceptable to more political parties, someone who would be more pro EU - a factor that has complicated Vaclav Klaus' position [Mr Klaus is a Euro sceptic] with many other parties like the Greens or even the Christian Democrats - then there could be a chance."

Would do you think about claims that Mr Paroubek's ways are too dictatorial?

"It depends on what the situation is like inside the party, whether there are possibilities for discussion or not, which I'm not so sure of. But it's true that it has not been easy for Mr Paroubek because there were many factions, there was a lot of animosity inside the party so it was necessary to be a strong leader to control the party."