Social Democrats face identity crisis

News of an alleged regional coalition deal between the Social Democrats and the Communists exploded like a time bomb on the Czech political scene on Wednesday morning. The Social Democrats, who lost many sympathizers when they clinched a power-sharing pact with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats two years ago, will lose even more if they embrace the Communist Party in order to save their skins. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

At this point, nobody knows exactly what is going on at Social Democrat headquarters in Prague's Lidovy Dum. Reports of what took place during a late night one-on-one meeting between the Social Democrat and Communist Party leaders seem to contradict themselves. The Communist leader's statement to the press that the two left-of-centre parties had promised each other mutual support in the second round of Senate elections and cooperation in regional government was firmly rejected by Social Democrat leader and Prime Minister Milos Zeman. The Communists promptly toned down their version of events as well, saying that "nothing had been signed" and that the two sides had merely "discussed various possibilities".

However, by that time, all hell had broken loose within the ranks of the Social Democrats. The undercurrents of strife between the liberal and conservative wings of the party surfaced with a vengeance. Commentators note that the Social Democratic Party which Milos Zeman created is not a typical European Social Democratic party but an unwieldy conglomerate of left-of-centre politicians, including those on the far left, who felt Zeman's party was a better political arena than the ostracized Communists. When the Social Democrats' star was rising, these differences were muted. Now that it's falling, the party's identity crisis is out in the open.

There have been calls for Zeman's immediate resignation as party leader and although an emergency session of the Social Democrat leadership attempted to present a united front to the public, saying that Zeman had explained the matter to their satisfaction, it was all too clear that the facade was badly cracked. The argument that "allegations of a coalition deal with the Communists were fabrications aimed at damaging the Social Democrats prior to the second round of elections to the Senate" also rings false. It is all too evident that with Zeman due to relinquish the party chairmanship in April, there will be a merciless fight for the hot seat, and the choice of Zeman's successor will depend on the outcome of this identity crisis. Whatever they decide, the party will have to be more transparent and principled in the future because if these elections have proved anything it is that the public is not happy with a party that swings both ways.