Social Democrats generous with promises ahead of May’s general elections

Foto: ČTK

The Social Democrats launched their campaign for May’s general elections with a bang over the weekend. At a conference in Teplice on Saturday, they unveiled an ambitions programme, promising to put the Czech Republic among the top ten countries of the EU.

“You cannot fail to win if you have the right team” - the song performed by Social Democrat leaders on a theatre stage in Teplice, led by the 1980s hit maker Michal David. Originally written to celebrate the Czech hockey team’ triumph at the Nagano Winter Olympics, the tune might now accompany the Social Democrats to victory.

Jiří Paroubek, photo: CTK
Their programme, approved unanimously by party delegates on Saturday, promises to cut the state budget deficit by half by 2013; abolish fees for visits to the doctor; bring back loans for newlyweds that were popular during communism; pay seniors a one-off extra pension, and re-introduce sick-leave payments for the first three days of sickness, among other things.

The programme provoked instant criticism from all other parties. The major rivals, the Civic Democrats compared the pledges to a Czech mission to Mars, and said the Social Democrats themselves must realize the promises are not realistic, while Christian Democrat leader Cyril Svoboda said the head of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, was behaving like a control freak.

Analysts estimate the costs of all the promises at some 47 billion crowns. To pay for all that, the Social Democrats want to get more EU funds, and raise taxes. Political analyst Jiří Pehe believes that the Social Democrats will have to back out of at least some of their promises, should they win at the polls.

Photo: CTK
“It’s a typical Social Democratic programme; it puts emphasis on social programmes, it’s trying to generate revenues by increasing taxes rather than by cutting them. So it’s a kind of programme you’d expect from the Social Democrats. On the other hand, we all know that what they are promising at this point is probably not 100 percent realistic; it’s an electoral platform and if they win, they’ll probably have to be more down to earth.”

The campaign style might be cheesy, and the promises unrealistic, but they seem to work well with Czech voters. Most recent polls put the Social Democrats strongly in the lead, with their major rival, the Civic Democrats, lagging behind by more than 10 percent. It’s as if the right-of centre party never fully recovered from the humiliating defeat when their government was toppled during the Czech EU presidency last March.

Torn between the followers of president Václav Klaus who founded the party, and the current leader, Mirek Topolánek, they came up with long-term strategy for the Czech Republic, but they somehow haven’t managed to get their campaign off the ground. Jiří Pehe again.

Mirek Topolánek
“I think the Civic Democrats really have a problem. Moreover, it doesn’t help that the Czech Republic, like many other countries, is facing an economic crisis. And in such situations, it seems to me that people tend to lean towards parties that promise more security.”

To counter the Social Democrat offensive, Mr Topolánek said his party would launch the hot phase of the campaign in mid-April. Meanwhile, Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek already started planning who his coalition partners might be in the next government.