Analyst: Topolánek’s failure to resign as party leader likely to cause further problems for Civic Democrats

The Civic Democrats’ Mirek Topolánek has bowed to pressure from within his own party and agreed to step down as election leader two months before the Czechs go to the polls. The job has now been filled by deputy chairman Petr Nečas. More importantly, Mr Topolánek declined to give up his post of party leader - creating an unusual precedent. Many observers suggest that the compromise decision will only increase the party’s current woes and could help lead the Civic Democrats to defeat against their closest rivals in May.

A little earlier I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe and asked him how he saw the situation:

“I think that the Civic Democratic Party should have gone the whole way: I think this solution doesn’t really benefit anyone. To have someone leading the party into the elections and to keep Mr Topolánek as the party leader may be quite confusing for a lot of voters and it could backfire. Moreover, I think that we still have a situation in which Mr Topolánek was basically replaced by one of his close allies and that will not in any way reduced the level of conflict in the party, where there are several competing groups. And certainly Mr Nečas is part of the Topolánek camp.”

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTKMirek Topolánek, photo: CTK Why do you think it is that Mr Topolánek is still hanging on? After all, in an interview before Thursday’s events he said that he would step down as chairman if he was forced off the list of candidates…

“I really do not understand Mr Topolánek’s motivation. It may be that he has an agenda that we don’t know about and he may want to finish certain things and so on. But I think that the fact that he has not resigned in light of the most recent developments is quite unfortunate. The party would be in a much better position if the person who was leading it into the election was also chairman. The party, in the eyes of the public, remains deeply divided and that doesn’t benefit any party, at least not in Czech politics. We know that Czech voters punish party’s that are internally divided.”

For people who may not be familiar with Mr Nečas as a politician, what do you think he brings to the equation now? What are some his strengths or weakness when it comes to the election campaign?

“I think that Petr Nečas is a solid politician, one of the few in the current Civic Democrat leadership who has a reputation for being honest and hard-working and not corrupt. And that is a plus. I also think that he is a true Conservative: a politician who lives by his conservative principles, unlike Mr Topolánek who has often declared he was a conservative but whose personal life often not matched his principles. So I think Mr Nečas is, in certain ways, a good choice. His problem is that he doesn’t have a lot of charisma and that may be a problem in the electoral campaign. On the other hand, we know that from the history of Czech politics after 1989 that occasionally politicians of this type are able to rise to the top and do quite well. The problem is that he doesn’t have a full mandate, so to speak, because he is till not the chairman of the party.”

Do you think that there is any chance that there might be some kind of resolution with a departure by Mr Topolánek – a complete departure – before the election? Or is this something that will ultimately only be decided after the election result?

“Well, I think that it would be highly advisable for the Civic Democratic Party to get rid of Mr Topolánek, to force him to resign from the chairman post before the elections. But it is quite possible that Mirek Topolánek will try to stay on because he senses that even with Mr Nečas on top the party will suffer a big defeat, something that might – in some ways - give him strength after the election if he wants to still fight. Because he would be able to say ‘I got out of the way and the party lost anyway’. So we will see what kind of game Mr Topolánek wants to play; I am afraid that he intends to stay until the elections.”