In a press briefing on Sunday, Bohuslav Sobotka responded by saying he
would not step down, and would pursue the post of prime minister in the
next government. He challenged his critics by saying he would not let the
Social Democratic Party lose its independence and come under the influence
of Citizens’ Rights – Zemanites, the party close to President
Zeman which posted a dismal result in Saturday’s election.
Two factions within the Social Democratic Party have been fighting for control for some time, one of them leaning strongly towards the head-of-state. Miloš Zeman, sources reported, met in secret with deputy leader Michal Hašek and others following the election on Saturday.
The election results, seen largely as continuing a stalemate in Czech politics, will play into the hands of President Miloš Zeman, pundits and numerous media suggest. Mr Zeman has been seen as trying to increase the powers of the presidency since assuming office and on Friday he suggested he could help the next prime minister-designate form a government if need be, an option rejected by the leaders of most of the parties in the lower house. In a post-election debate on Saturday, leaders, including deputy leader of the Civic Democrats Miroslava Němcova, suggested, such a role by the president was unacceptable.
International media such as the Financial Times reporting on the Czech election noted that Mr Babiš was the de facto winner on Saturday, as it was unlikely a stable government could be formed without his party’s consent (or less plausibly, the Communists’). Members of the right-wing parties formerly in government, such as TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg, said on Saturday they did not expect the next government to be a stable one. The former foreign minister suggested that the country could face early elections within two years. Both TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats (the latter suffering an historic defeat in the election) said they will head into opposition.
In related news, sources including Novinky.cz, are reporting that Mr Hašek, deputies club former head of Jeroným Tejc and long-time Zeman supporter Zdeněk Škromach met in secret with President Miloš Zeman on Saturday evening. None of the politicians have commented, no details have been disclosed. Mr Hašek was accused by leader Bohuslav Sobotka of sewing discord within the party in the run up to the early election.
In related news, Jiří Pospíšil, a deputy chairman of the Civic
Democratic Party and former justice minister, has told news site iDnes
former president Václav Klaus’s support for the right-wing bloc Heads
(or Chin Up) – which suffered defeat on Saturday - spelled his political
end. The former minister also expressed disappointment that the former
president had turned against the party he once led, referring to his
actions as “mudslinging”.
Regarding his own party’s dismal 7.7 percent result, Mr Pospíšil called it a “debacle” and said the Civic Democrats had been given a last chance to turn things around. He stressed that a new leadership would need to be elected and that the party – in opposition – needed to focus on quality politics. Mr Pospíšil is one of 16 Civic Democrat MPs elected on Saturday; previously the party had 53.
The broader party leadership of the Social Democratic Party has called on leader Bohuslav Sobotka to resign. Twenty members of the party’s praesidium on Sunday voted in favour of the motion, 13 were against. The party leadership also called for Mr Sobotka to be sidelined from the four-member team designated to negotiate on the new government. The team is to be led by deputy leader Michal Hašek; others members are Lubomír Zaorálek, Milan Chovanec and Jeroným Tejc. Some Social Democrats expressed shock over the developments; Euro MP Richard Falbr called the move an “assassination”.
Martin Stropnický, an actor turned politician who ran for ANO 2011 which came in second on Saturday, has suggested that his grouping’s programme priorities are “61 percent compatible” with that of the Social Democrats. Speaking in a TV debate programme on commercial broadcaster TV Prima on Sunday, Mr Stropnický said that was grounds for “rational negotiation”. According to Stropnický, cooperation between the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats (who successfully returned to the lower house after a 3.5 year absence) was a possibility. Political analysts, reflecting on Saturday’s results, have also suggested that a consensus between the three was more probable than other scenarios. There are suggestions that the three could form either a ruling coalition with a comfortable majority of 111 in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies, or that the Social Democrats could form a minority government with their backing.
Four-fifths of Czechs do not think Saturday’s election results will resolve the ongoing political crisis, according to a new poll commissioned by public broadcaster Czech TV. On Saturday, the Social Democrats won the elections but far less decisively than many expected. Second in the election was ANO 2011, an upstart party led by billionaire businessman turned politician Andrej Babiš, which finished close behind the winners. Earlier on Saturday, Mr Babiš suggested he would not back a Social Democrat-led government, but his party has since changed tack. It is apparent that the winners, the Social Democrats, will, at the very least, face difficult negotiations in forming a ruling coalition or forming a minority government.
Deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party, Michal Hašek, had strong
words for the party’s chairman Bohuslav Sobotka on Sunday, saying that
he had secured such a poor result in the election he would have resigned.
Mr Hašek was referring to the party’s somewhat Pyrrhic victory at the
weekend which left the Social Democrats with only 20.5 percent of the vote
(far less than the 30 percent sought by the current leader).
Mr Hašek, long a potential challenger to Mr Sobotka and a politician with close ties to the current president, Miloš Zeman, spoke to the Czech News Agency about the result and compared the situation to three-and-a-half years ago when the party secured a similarly weak victory and then-party leader Jiří Paroubek wasted no time in stepping down.
Mr Sobotka responded on Sunday by saying he intended to hold coalition talks with the Christian Democrats and ANO 2011, and saying he was in favour of an extraordinary leadership convention being held in March of 2014.
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