The former governing Civic Democrats lost one of their most popular public faces on Thursday when Jiří Pospíšil, the former justice minister, announced he was leaving the party. Mr Pospíšil said there’d been a mutual loss of confidence in the new party leadership and some of his colleagues, but observers are divided as to whether this will do any more damage to the once mighty centre-right party.
Jiří Pospíšil was one of the most popular politicians in the Civic Democrats, enjoying several periods as justice minister in successive right-of-centre coalitions between 2009 and 2012 and occupying the post of vice-chairman of his party between 2010 and 2014.
A native of Chomutov, north Bohemia, Mr Pospíšil spent his childhood and early career in the western city of Plzeň, and became a strong regional asset to the party, leading the Civic Democrats’ local organization there for many years. At the 2012 regional elections Mr Pospíšil topped the party’s list of candidates for the Plzeň region – the only region the Civic Democrats managed to win.
Now, aged just 38, he’s jumped ship, announcing his departure from the party that has stood at the forefront of Czech politics for two decades since it was founded by Václav Klaus in 1991. The Civic Democrats have entered what looks like a terminal decline in the last twelve months, scoring just 7% in October’s early elections, two percentage points over the threshold needed to enter parliament. The most recent opinion poll put the party on just 5%.
According to a short statement Mr Pospíšil said the chief reason for his departure was a mutual loss of confidence between him and his party colleagues. He also expressed dismay at comments made by his colleagues on social media, without giving details. He said his departure would help party unity, and allow the Civic Democrats to find a path towards renewal. He made several unsuccessful attempts at re-election as deputy chairman at the party’s January conference, and appeared furious at being snubbed.
He’s leaving the Civic Democrats but he will not, however, give up his parliamentary mandate, despite signing a party promise to the contrary. He says he was elected only thanks to preferential votes, and will not, he says, abandon the people of Plzeň. He now plans to co-operate with TOP09, the only other right-wing party in parliament.
New party leader Petr Fiala said it was ‘unfortunate’ that Mr Pospíšil was leaving at this troubled moment in the party’s history, but some members have reacted with relief – commentators said he was popular amongst local voters, but had few allies within the party itself. That notwithstanding, some believe the Civic Democrats are insane not to keep Mr Pospíšil within their ranks; a party balancing on the edge of electability cannot, they say, pick and choose, especially when it comes to that rarest of things – a genuinely popular Czech politician.