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.
On Czech TV on Sunday, President Zeman said the election results showed that both the former coalition as well as the former opposition had “failed”. But the president shrugged off any responsibility for the dismal result of Citizens’ Rights – Zemanites (founded in his name), by suggesting that backing by the head-of-state was a “kiss of death”. He compared earlier support that the late Václav Havel expressed for the Green Party or that his predecessor Václav Klaus expressed for a right-wing bloc this year, as examples. Citizens’ Rights – Zemanites picked up just 1.5 percent of the vote on Saturday, well below the five percent needed; it is the second time the party has failed to make it into the lower house.
Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka has admitted that Saturday’s
result was less than he or his party expected but said his party would
nevertheless try and form a stable government, while upholding programme
priorities. On Saturday, he said he would head a negotiating team that
would meet with all of the parties in the lower house, with the exception
of the right-of-centre TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats. He also said that
he failed to put together a new government, he would step down.
On Saturday evening, members of the Social Democrats met for early talks with representatives of the Communist Party, including party leader Vojtěch Filip. The meeting lasted 45 minutes, and touched briefly on programme priorities and other areas, according to reports.
In related news, ANO leader Andrej Babiš has said that a coalition between his party, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats was a possibility, providing the parties were able to find agreement on programme priorities. He made clear that if ANO entered into a coalition he was interested iin the post of finance minister. Mr Babiš stressed he had heard no word from the Social Democrats yet.
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.
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