Right-wing party TOP 09 was one of the biggest casualties in the elections in October squeaking by with 5.3 percent of the vote, securing seven mandates and losing 19. Now the party has begun the process of turning things around, electing a new leadership at the weekend. MEP and former justice minister Jiří Pospíšil has taken over from Miroslav Kalousek.
After Karel Schwarzenberg and Miroslav Kalousek, Jiří Pospíšil is party leader, tasked with turning TOP 09’s fortunes around. Since the 2010 election, the party has gone downhill, from the initial promising finish in third place with 42 seats to 26 in 2013 and just seven now. On election day in October, the party looked for a large part of the day it might not make it into the Chamber of Deputies at all, but got in under the wire largely due to Prague voters.
New leader Jiří Pospíšil made clear he was aware it would be difficult to win lost voters back, especially in the regions outside Prague where TOP 09 has traditionally been weak. Former party leader Miroslav Kalousek, critical of local organisations, said the situation in the regions is far from ideal:
“Our web of local organizations, and therefore of municipal candidates is very sparse. We will have to change that so that we have as many candidates as possible and leave no blank spaces on the map.”
Newly-elected chairman Pospíšil made clear he is very well aware of the problem: he is betting on independent affiliated candidates as well as close cooperation with the like-minded party STAN - with whom TOP 09 shared the ballot back in 2010. Here’s what he had to say:
“STAN, the party of Mayors and independents, are the closest to us politically and I hope that we will work closely together. I hope that we will be able to agree on joint-projects not only in in European but also in municipal elections.”
TOP 09 is also part of the so-called Democratic bloc together with STAN, the Civic Democrats, and the Christian Democrats, with a total of 48 seats in the 200-member lower house of Parliament.
MEP Jiří Pospíšil was elected leader with support from 147 out of 177 delegates present while Kalousek’s pick, had she opted to run, Markéta Pekarová Adamová was elected first deputy chair. Mr Pospíšil’s election as new leader didn’t prevent him from coming under criticism from some delegates and commentators who questioned whether holding two jobs, MEP, which he has held for three years and running the party, will be ideal. He turned the criticism on its head, suggesting what seemed like a negative was the opposite.
“Being a European MP is not the same as being a European bureaucrat who has to work in Brussels six days a week. Even now, I work part of the week politically in the Czech Republic. I would say that having a Euro MP at the head of as pro-EU party can be a certain advantage.”
The former party leader Miroslav Kalousek, meanwhile, will continue to influence party politics as the head of the party deputies’ group in the lower house.