Mirek Topolánek finally bowed to the inevitable on Thursday, and bowed out of Czech politics. He announced he would relinquish his post of leader of the Civic Democrats on April 12th, following the uproar over unfortunate remarks made last month. He passes the reins to deputy chairman Petr Nečas, viewed as a safe pair of hands to restore stability to the Civic Democrats after passing through the recent political storm. But who is Petr Nečas?
It would be hard to find a greater contrast to outgoing leader Mirek Topolánek. Petr Nečas, 45, church-going, a father of four, is unlikely to leave his wife for one of his party colleagues, or punch tabloid photographers in the street, or stick his middle finger up at rivals in parliament. The only thing Petr Nečas appears to share in common with Mirek Topolánek are his Moravian origins, his conservative politics and his considerable height.
Described in the Czech media as “Mr Clean”, his worst character trait, he told a newspaper recently, is his grumpiness, something he seems to keep well hidden. His greatest sin appears to be an addiction to chocolate.
Petr Nečas was born in Uherské Hradiště, South Moravia, in 1964, emerging from Brno’s Purkyně University with a physics degree. After national service and four years working at the state-owned electronics company Tesla, he entered politics.
In 1992 he was elected to head the local Civic Democratic Party in Vsetín, the birthplace of the man he’d later succeed as party leader, Mirek Topolánek. He won his first seat in parliament in June of that year, and has been there ever since, making him one of the country’s longest-serving MPs.
He’s served in a number of senior posts, including deputy defence minister, chairman of the lower house defence and security committee and, most recently, labour and social affairs minister, a post he occupied until the collapse of the Topolánek government last year.
Petr Nečas is a modest, soft-spoken man, a professional politician who chooses his words carefully and keeps his emotions in check. That said, he looked frankly terrified during the televised press conference called to announce he was taking over from Mirek Topolánek as the Civic Democrats’ election leader.
Since then he’s given a host of interviews designed to paint an image of a man who’s a far calmer figure than Mr Topolánek, yet one who still possesses the drive and ambition to lead the country. “I want to be prime minister” was the headline in one interview.
His ascendancy to the top raises an intriguing prospect of reconciliation between the Civic Democrats and their founding father, President Václav Klaus. Mr Klaus left the party in a fit of pique brought on by what he perceived as Mirek Topolánek treacherous drift to the political centre, culminating in his shepherding of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty through parliament.
Petr Nečas has criticised President Klaus on several occasions, but in a recent interview he appeared to hold out an olive branch, saying Václav Klaus had left the Civic Democrats, but the Civic Democrats had never left Václav Klaus.
But while Petr Nečas has spoken of his desire to become prime minister, he knows all too well that the leadership of the Civic Democrats is something of a poisoned chalice. If the party fails to win May’s elections, his leadership could be short-lived.