Social Democrats roll out big guns in bid to unseat Bem

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In a around thirty days time the Czech Republic's weary electorate will be asked to go to the polls, four months after June's inconclusive parliamentary elections. This time it's local and Senate elections, and the capital Prague, of course, is of great importance. Mayor Pavel Bem - a member of the governing Civic Democrats - has been in the post for the last four years, but the Social Democrats are rolling out the big guns in a bid to unseat him.

Pavel Bem
Prague - with its per capita GDP well above the EU average - has always been firmly right-wing territory, and the Civic Democrats have dominated the city council for more than a decade. For the past four years the position of mayor has been held by the 43-year-old Pavel Bem, a snappy dresser who's not above pulling the odd publicity stunt to make a point. He once disguised himself as an Italian tourist - complete with fake goatee - in an undercover sting operation to expose rip-off taxi drivers.

Pavel Bem is now one of the country's most popular politicians, and has even been mentioned as a candidate for prime minister if Mirek Topolanek fails. For now Mr Bem wants to remain mayor and is standing for another four-year term. But the Social Democrats trundled out their own heavy artillery on Monday, announcing that the former Education Minister Petra Buzkova, who also regularly tops the popularity polls, will come out of her recent political retirement to challenge Mr Bem. So what are her chances? We asked political analyst Jiri Pehe.

Petra Buzkova
"I don't think the chances of Petra Buzkova becoming mayor of Prague are great, simply because the Social Democratic party traditionally doesn't do well in Prague, and it is likely to finish second again, while its biggest opponent - the Civic Democrat Party - will most likely win. However what may happen is that after the elections, the grand coalition - the coalition between the Civic Democrats and Social Democrats - that has ruled [the Prague city council] for some time will be renewed, and then there's the space for negotiations in which an experienced politician such as Petra Buzkova could in theory be elected mayor of Prague. But the chances of that are not very great."

The announcement came as something of a surprise, seeing as Ms Buzkova had said just weeks ago that she was retiring from politics to return to her original profession as a lawyer. She told the media she'd agonised long and hard before accepting the nomination, before finally deciding to say yes.

Petra Buzkova's decision comes amid criticism within the Social Democrats over the party's pre-election campaign - which asks potential voters such questions as "why are there drug dealers on this street?" and "why aren't there more council flats?". Unkind wags have pasted over the adverts with answers such as "Ask the Social Democrats" or "Because the Social Democrats were in power for eight years". Petra Buzkova's candidacy could serve as a welcome diversion from a campaign which some say has badly backfired.