Social Democrats lead polls for the first time in over a year

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

The rainy days of July seem to be full of sunshine for the Social Democrats, the largest opposition party in the Czech parliament. A recent series of polls suggests that for the first time since last year's elections, Social Democrats now have more public support than their main rival - the governing right-wing Civic Democrats. But that's not all the good news for the Jiri Paroubek's party - an investigation into a corruption scandal linked to the Social Democrats has just been dropped.

Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
An investigation into the so-called bio-fuel case, one of the country's largest corruption scandals was dropped by the prosecution on Wednesday for lack of evidence. This is certainly good news for the Social Democrats, as several of their members had been accused in connection with the case. But that news may pale beside the latest polls, which show the Social Democrats in front for the first time since elections over a year ago. What has brought this about? One suggestion is approval of party leader's Jiri Paroubek handling of his recent marriage break-up. Political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova of Prague's University of Economics.

"I am not sure whether the question of the divorce or the love affair of Mr Paroubek can help strengthen the support, but the Czech society is very tolerant and I don't think it will have a negative impact on the party as a whole. As far as the investigation of the corruption, this can be something that will probably help social democrats as the information used against them mainly during the electoral campaign was not based on some deeper facts or analysis."

Jan Hamacek
The Social Democrats are well aware that the opportunity of coming back as the strongest party should not be missed. They seem to have already set about "re-branding" themselves, with the daily Pravo reporting this week that Petr Dimun, former justice ministry spokesperson, has prepared a detailed plan aimed at increasing the party's appeal with younger, more sophisticated voters. However, there has been a mixed reaction from Social Democrat members. Jan Hamacek, Social Democrat MP and the chairman of the lower house's foreign affairs committee, says the material is only a part of a larger process.

"Frankly speaking, I have not seen that material, I have only read about it in one of the dailies, so I don't really know what is in it. What I know is that the party has decided to set up several teams which should study and discuss how the party should be modernized and made more attractive to the voters and I think it is a fairly lengthy procedure and we should have first results by the end of the summer."