Social Democrats unleash controversial new campaign

Photo: CTK

With recriminations and allegations still flying around following last week’s re-election of Czech president Václav Klaus, the opposition Social Democrat party has initiated a controversial new campaign, which it claims places an emphasis on a new style of politics in the Czech Republic.

Photo: CTK
Last week’s election result was close. President Václav Klaus was re-elected by the slimmest of margins – two votes. Had it not been for the last-minute defection of Social Democrat Evžen Snitilý, the Social Democrats believe that President Klaus may not have been re-elected. This isn’t the first time the party has had to face defections. In early 2007, Social Democrat MPs Miloš Melčák and Michal Pohanka broke a seemingly deadlocked parliament and enabled the Civic Democrats to win a vote of confidence and create a coalition government that excluded the Social Democrats.

'Either we will buy you or you are going to weep – The Civic Democratic Party', photo: CTK
The party’s controversial new publicity campaign directly labels the above MPs as traitors, who only jumped ship because of bribery. One poster pictures all three MPs and contains the title: “Treachery is just a matter of money.” Another proclaims: “Either we will buy you or you are going to weep – The Civic Democratic Party.” The campaign, also explicitly promises voters that the Social Democrats will not ever rely on defectors from other parties, as well as claiming that the party stands against corruption, misuse of the security services for political ends, and vulgar language – all three are common accusations levelled at the entire Czech political spectrum. So is this just a media stunt? I asked political commentator Alexander Mitrofanov for his take:

Photo: CTK
“I think the Social Democrats want people to have a more emotional than rational reaction - because their campaign lacks any kind of proof – they want the sense that the greatest controversy is on the side of the Civic Democratic Party. Another part of the campaign, again without any kind of evidence, seeks to create the impression that it is the Civic Democrats who are connected with corruption, bribery, and the misuse of the security services. Political practice teaches us that we shouldn’t really take seriously anything said by the political parties. But it also has another side: If a promise is made publicly, then the person giving it is held to it. So if the Social Democrats are very strongly saying that they won’t ever rely on political defectors, and then end up relying on them, that will actually have a negative effect on the party.”

So could this campaign also backfire and is there a likelihood that the three named MPs might sue for defamation of character?

“Maybe the Social Democrats are counting on that – I can’t really say. But I can’t really imagine that one, two or all three of the MPs which are pictured in those posters will take legal action against the Social Democrats. They can’t really throw stones because none of them has yet fully explained why they chose to defect from one political camp to the other.”

Nonetheless, the Social Democrats clearly continue to believe that President Klaus would not have been re-elected were it not for the bribery of their politicians, acts of shady lobbying, and untoward pressures exerted on various lawmakers – though no proof of this has emerged. Unsurprisingly, the Civic Democrats claim that this is all sour grapes – president Klaus, won fair and square, they argue. I asked Alexander Mitrofanov for his take on the overall climate in Czech politics:

“It’s very bad, internally. There is great disparity, great conflict, lots of finger pointing, and an inability to find a consensus. There is also an inability in the coalition to agree among its various factions; the left-of-centre opposition parties also can’t agree on anything…overall, this is reflected in the decreasing interest and trust of the public for their politicians.”