Members of the Prague assembly on Thursday dismissed Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda as well as two other Civic Democrat councillors in a vote Thursday that sees the Civic Democrats head into the opposition for the first time in more than 20 years. The collapse of the council at City Hall was prompted earlier this week by TOP 09, whose members said they could no longer work with their partners on key issues. The now former mayor charged that that was only an excuse for the party to shift gears ahead of next year’s elections.
I spoke to political analyst Erik Best, asking him how he viewed developments.
“Well I certainly think there is an aspect of it that could be described as a power move: you have TOP 09, which is considered a right-wing party, that wants to take a more dominant position. At the same time, it was under threat from within its own ranks because of its poor relationship with the mayor’s organisation. So they had to do something to begin calling attention to themselves and to shore up support in Prague which is its most important area. The party doesn’t have a strong central figure on the Prague scene, so they can’t even decide who to put forward as Prague mayor. I think they want to use the next year to promote whoever it is they decide upon, so they can actually have someone capable of running successfully in the next elections. On that level it is definitely a power move in the Prague electoral area.”
Now former mayor Bohuslav Svoboda charged on Czech TV on Wednesday that directions for Prague TOP 09 had come from the very top: from deputy party leader and finance minister Miroslav Kalousek. Do you imagine this was the case?
“Yes, a decision of this magnitude is something they must have discussed on the national level: how the next year – a super-election year – turns out is of utmost importance to the party on the national level. I think Kalousek is involved and making many of the decisions. The tricky part for TOP 09 now will be how to assume power with support or in a possible coalition with people only a year ago it called ‘godfathers’ or Mafia-types. I think that they will try and promote their choice for mayor as much as they can and distance themselves from some of negative aspects.
“We should certainly mention, that the power play was not only by TOP 09 but also from within Bohuslav Svoboda’s own party. He had taken steps to eliminate some Prague chapters, taking away their status as a legitimate organisation and because of this there was opposition among Civ Dem ranks to see him continue as mayor. Paradoxically, some within the party will be able to work better with the new administration, once established, than they were able to with their own.”
Bohuslav Svoboda proved fairly popular as mayor among a god part of the electorate: how do you think Praguers wull look back on his two-and-a-half years in office?
“I think most of them, as you suggest, will look back fairly favourably with the understanding that he was dealt a very difficult hand, some projects that had already gone heavily over-budget, where it was hard to do much. If he had tried to prosecute anyone from the former administration, for example, I think we would have seen him ousted from office much sooner than he was.”