Spidla dominant as Social Democrats top the polls

Le duel entre Vladimir Spidla (a gauche) et Vaclav Klaus (Photo: CTK)

Well it's just five days to go before the general elections, and the parties are making a final push before the polls open on Friday. Undecided voters will be a key factor this weekend, and the leaders of the four main parties have been doing their utmost to win them over. Sunday discussion programmes on TV have become a traditional part of political life in this country, and so all eyes were on TV Nova yesterday when the leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, entered the ring with the head of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, Vaclav Klaus, for a crucial pre-election encounter. Watching the debate was my colleague Rob Cameron - first of all Rob, why was this particular debate so important?

Vaclav Klaus and Vladimir Spidla on TV Nova,  photo: CTK
"Well, it was the last head-to-head encounter between the leaders of the two largest parties before the elections. TV Nova is watched by around 70 percent of the population, and Sunday's political discussion programme "Seven Days" is one of the most popular. Obviously the election is not going to be won by a single TV appearance, but how the candidates came across on the programme was important, especially to undecided voters."

Right. So who came out best?

"Well it was a tough encounter, but most pundits say Mr Spidla won the day. The Social Democrat leader said Mr Klaus's career was inextricably linked with failure - Mr Spidla said it was failure which led to his departure from government in 1997, and he said he hoped Czechs would not choose the same fate for themselves. It was the second TV encounter between the two men in the space of seven days, and both times Mr Klaus looked unsure of himself, he seemed unable to get the upper hand."

Vladimir Spidla,  photo:CTK
A tough duel then, but did anything significant come out of it?

"Yes - Mr Spidla stressed once again that he would not seek to form a coalition with Mr Klaus's Civic Democrats. He said there were deep policy differences between the two parties, adding that he preferred a coalition with the right-of-centre Coalition grouping. He gave the clearest indication possible that if the Social Democrats win the elections - and the final opinion polls released on Monday suggest that that will be the case - then the Civic Democrats will spend the next four years in opposition. But that, of course, remains an if."

I gather Mr Spidla is already behaving like the winner.

"Yes, he's already suggesting who he'd like to see in his cabinet. He mentioned people like Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart and the highly popular Social Democrat Petra Buzkova. It was a canny move, because all these people are popular and above all they're young - they're all under 40. There was no mention of people like Foreign Minister Jan Kavan or Regional Development Minister Petr Lachnit, who are older, less popular and associated with the outgoing Prime Minister Milos Zeman - someone who is - if anything - likely to put people off voting for the Social Democrats. But of course it's the voters who'll have the final word - the opinion polls may have put the Social Democrats ahead, but the polls have been wrong in the past, and they could be wrong again."