About the Party Congress of the Czech Social Democrats

29. 3. 2013 / Daniel Řezníček

The Czech Social Democratic Party held its 37th congress on 15th and 16th March. As the party is widely expected to win the upcoming general election in 2014, the congress was followed with much interest both by the Czech public and the media.

One of the most important questions the congress was expected to resolve was how the relationship between the party and the new president Miloš Zeman, himself a chairman of ČSSD between 1993 and 2001, would evolve. It is widely expected that Mr Zeman will try to be an active president with a desire to influence the decision-making processes. Thus, the relationship between the ambitious president and the potential party in government will have many implications.

Mr Zeman temporarily left politics in 2003 after a part of his party refused to support him in the presidential election (which was back then still conducted by the two houses of Czech Parliament). In 2003, Zeman lost the election to Václav Klaus. Since then, the divisions within the Social Democratic party have persisted; on the one hand, there is a group of Mr Zeman's supporters, on the other hand, there is a circle of `post-Zeman' members who are critical of the current president and the times of his chairmanship of the party. Many suspected Miloš Zeman would try to take revenge on his old party once in the presidential seat by trying to deepen the divisions and thus weakening the party before the upcoming general election.

However, in his speech at the congress, the president said he wanted the Social Democrats to win the election and that he did not desire to hurt the party in any respect. On the contrary, he offered the party `friendship'. Mr Zeman was applauded by the delegates. On the one hand, this may be seen as a positive signal and a symbolic burial of the hatchet between the two sides. On the other hand, it is plausible to say it merely means that the pro-Zeman faction is getting the upper hand within the Social Democratic Party...

This claim seems to be supported by the election of the party committee which was also followed with interest by the public. While Bohuslav Sobotka and Michal Hašek were confirmed in their positions of chairman and first deputy chairman respectively, Mr Sobotka (representing the post-Zeman wing) left the congress partially defeated. Jiří Dienstbier, his key ally and a candidate Mr Sobotka openly supported for the position not re-elected for the post one of the five deputy chairmen. Many commentators were surprised by this decision of the delegates. Mr Dienstbier is by far the most popular politician in the country and was considerably successful in the first round of the presidential election, although he lost to Miloš Zeman. However, some of his party colleagues criticised him for being too `individualistic' and for attacking Mr Zeman during the presidential campaign. Thus, his removal from an influential position within the Social Democratic Party is seen by many as a partial victory of the pro-Zeman wing, which is represented by the first deputy chairman Hašek. The chairman Sobotka believes it means a triumph for the `suicidal tendencies' within the party.

The removal of Mr Dienstbier from any positions of influence within the Social Democratic Party became the number one topic for the Czech media for several days. It was criticised by most media commentators as well as by most Czech left-of-centre intellectuals. On the other hand, the former president Václav Klaus welcomed the delegates' decision to remove Dienstbier, as they allegedly refused to give in to what the media want and turned their back on `havel-esque elitism' represented by the candidate. Nonetheless, there are two major reasons why getting rid of Mr Dienstbier is seen by many as a tactical mistake. First, it is his well-known anti-corruption agenda. By setting him aside, the Social Democratic Party has signalled to the voters it has no desire to transcend the label of an establishment party entangled in various corruption scandals. Second, Dienstbier's popularity and a remarkable level of acceptance of his integrity across the political spectrum have many implications for his party's electoral potential. While it would not make a big difference for a typically leftist voter whether Jiří Dienstbier is in the Social Democratic leadership, it may have a huge impact on the non-aligned voter. The traditional Czech right-wing parties are highly unpopular at the moment and a widely accepted politician such as Mr Dienstbier could swing the non-aligned voters to the left in the next election. Analysts claim that now that Dienstbier was removed from the Social Democratic leadership, most of the non-aligned voters who voted for a right-wing party in the last election will stay at home or vote for small parties. The same applies for young urban voters who are, in general, not typical supporters of left-wing parties in the Czech Republic and whose major concern is often corruption in the public sphere. Therefore, the Social Democrats have probably lost a big opportunity to fully make use of the unpopularity of the right and become a kind of catch-all party. Nonetheless, Mr Sobotka's faction partially managed to make up for the loss of Dienstbier by narrowly electing Alena Gajdůšková the `female deputy chairman' and thus removing Mrs Benešová, an outspoken Zeman supporter, from the position.

An important decision was made at the congress with regard to the Czech Communist Party. The delegates confirmed the validity of so called `Bohumín resolution' which prohibits the Social Democrats to form a coalition with the Communists on the state level. Therefore, it seems, the Social Democrats will try to form a minority government after the next election (should it win it) as there are no other major left-wing parties in the Czech Republic. This is also a solution president Zeman recommended to the party.

Last but not least, two comments made by two party members at the congress caused a considerable uproar among the public and the media. First, the shadow Minister of Finance, Jan Mládek, made a clumsy statement, which was interpreted by the media as him saying that self-employed people `parasites'. The right-wing Prime Minister Petr Nečas heavily criticised the statement and the Social Democratic chairman, Mr Sobotka, distanced himself from it. Richard Falbr, a member of the European Parliament, confessed to have always admired Ernesto Che Guevara whom he called `a high-principled man' and whom only `stupid journalists' call a mass murderer.


Obsah vydání | Sobota 10.12. 2016