Social Democrats gear up for congress amid poor polling and pressure on Sobotka

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Khalil Baalbaki

Government leaders the Social Democrats are gearing up for a congress this weekend at which the party’s chairman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, is expected to retain his post. But in general what shape are the party in with elections coming up in October? That’s a question I put to political scientist Petr Just. He says the Social Democrats are the only coalition member “paying” for being in government with lower poll numbers – this hasn’t happened to the smaller parties, Andrej Babiš’s ANO or the Christian Democrats.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
“Andrej Babiš’s movement is actually doing much better in public opinion polls than the Social Democrats. And the Christian Democrats are more or less defending the position they gained in the previous election.

“So actually the Social Democratic Party is the only member of the coalition which is losing and is below its previous strength.

“From this point of view we can say that the Social Democrats are not in the best shape. They are definitely not in the shape they would wish to be in.

“Therefore there should be a big focus on the weekend’s national convention.”

How strong is party leader Bohuslav Sobotka’s position going into this congress? Recently we’ve seen attacks on him from the South Bohemian regional governor, Jiří Zimola, and other influential Social Democrats.

“Probably, if nothing dramatic happens, he will be the only candidate. However, the result he gets will probably be much lower than we would expect from a competition, or competition in quotes, with only one candidate.

“We could witness opposition in the number or proportion of votes that will not be cast for Bohuslav Sobotka as the only candidate for the party chairmanship.”

Which voters is he trying to appeal to, do you think? Sometimes Mr. Sobotka attempts to appeal to middle-class, urban voters, but at other times, and more recently, he seems to be pushing more of a left-wing agenda.

“Following last year’s Senate and regional elections Bohuslav Sobotka expressed a view or a wish that the Social Democratic Party would more address let’s say socially liberal voters, voters from urban areas.

Jiří Dientsbier,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“However, the first steps he made shortly after he made these proclamations seemed to move the Social Democratic Party further left, rather than to the centre left, as he had said before.

“We can see it also in how he handled changes in the government, for example when he decided to sack the minister for human rights, Jiří Dientsbier, who represented more centre-left, socially liberal, urban voters.

“This was in sharp contradiction with Bohuslav Sobotka’s earlier statements.

“So now it seems that he is moving more towards the left. This can be seen in his statements about possible cooperation with the Communist Party after the elections while tax reforms he has spoken about also move the party more to the left than, let’s say, the centre of the political sphere.”