A look back on the successes - and failures - of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla

28-06-2004

Two years ago Vladimir Spidla's Social Democrats won parliamentary elections with just over 30 percent of the vote, keeping the party in power, and making them easily the strongest parliamentary force. But from the outset it was clear the new prime minister wouldn't have it easy. He opted for a coalition government built on the slimmest of majorities, rather than relying on minority rule with passive opposition support.

Vladimir Spidla, photo: Zdenek ValisVladimir Spidla, photo: Zdenek Valis The previous Social Democratic government of Milos Zeman, had relied on just such a deal with the opposition Civic Democrats - the so-called 'opposition agreement' - but the arrangement had never been popular. Mr Spidla rejected such deals, just as he ruled out cooperation with the unreformed - and unrepentant - Communist Party. But he never emerged as strong or charismatic leader, struggling as successor to a larger than life, outspoken and increasingly critical predecessor in the form of Mr Zeman. Mr Spidla has come to be seen as a weak leader. But is this view entirely fair?

Jan Velinger spoke with political analyst Jan Urban. He began by asking about the surge that brought Mr Spidla into power in the first place.

"His ticket won exactly because he was seen as a symbol of the anti-corruption movement. Once he won the top party position, though, very soon he realised that he didn't have support within the party and he was never able to get party support behind him and his policies. On the contrary, he was seen as weakening from very early on."

His party decisively won the elections with over 30 percent of the vote, yet was in a way left little choice but to work with smaller right-of-centre parties that did poorly. The result being that the coalition government had the slimmest of majorities in the lower house. Would you agree that Mr Spidla paid the price for not, for example, forming a minority government and relying on the tacit support of the right-of-centre opposition or the Communist Party?

Milos Zeman, photo: Zdenek ValisMilos Zeman, photo: Zdenek Valis "You are absolutely right. Nevertheless once he took upon that role of the one vote majority, the only thing he could have done was to turn this weakness into an advantage. That would mean a very strong, vocal policy and very good communication with the public. He did neither. He simply stopped being communicative vis-à-vis with the public and became prey for the press and opposition."

But wouldn't you say there were points as prime minister when he did display strong leadership skills, one example being the crisis in 2002 when floods hit the Czech Republic, another being the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union?

"Absolutely, you know, Vladimir Spidla is a workaholic and he is a man of great personal integrity. He has been tested many times in his life, in critical situations. Personally, he is an honourable man. His weakness is that he cannot even sell his success. You mentioned the two great achievements of his cabinet: one really wonders what it is in the personality of Vladimir Spidla that prevented him from using these successes to get the public behind him."

One final question then: What do you think the future holds for Mr Spidla within his own party?

"I would never make the mistake of underestimating Vladimir Spidla. He has seen the bottom before and always taken-off. But, definitely I think we are entering a period of very muddy party politicking which is not to his taste. I think he will wait for some time before accepting some high position. But, if he doesn't learn how to build support for himself and his policy within his own party, his political future will not be bright."

28-06-2004

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