Topolánek to step down after over seven years as chairman of Civic Democrats

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

After over seven years in the post, Mirek Topolánek is stepping down as chairman of the Civic Democrats. The announcement comes days after he was forced to quit as election leader. But with only eight weeks until general elections, what will this change at the top mean for the Czech Republic’s biggest right-of-centre party?

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
When he was elected chairman of the Civic Democrats in December 2002, Mirek Topolánek quickly earned a reputation for being unpretentious, a rough and ready man of the people.

However, the former prime minister’s speaking was at times rather too plain; untoward remarks about two members of the government and other topics led to a chorus of condemnation, and eventually his head.

Mr Topolánek resisted pressure from senior party colleagues to step down over the comments, before the Civic Democrats executive council forced him to resign as leader for May’s general elections, replacing him in that post with deputy chairman Petr Nečas.

The out-of-favour leader clung on to the post of chairman, but after another party meeting on Thursday morning said he would tender his resignation on April 12. Mr Nečas will then head the party until a Civic Democrats conference later in the year.

Mirek Topolánek looked sombre when he spoke to the media:

“I think this is a really correct solution which gives Petr Nečas what he has to have, which is an unambiguous position of authority as chairman and election leader. In this regard he has my full support and I ask all those who might have backed me to give Petr Nečas their support.”

Mr Nečas, a former minister of labour, is unsullied by scandal and regarded as a safe pair of hands, if uncharismatic. Political commentator Jiří Pehe agrees that his elevation to the chairman’s post should benefit the Civic Democrats.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
“I think it will reduce the level of confusion that especially the voters of the Civic Democratic Party had to deal with. Because I think that no party that formally has two heads can really do well in elections.”

That may well be the case. But the wisdom, or not, of the Civic Democrat replacing their chairman less than two months before elections will be seen when the results are announced on May 29.