The weekend's elections to regional assemblies, the second since sweeping local government reforms were introduced four years ago, resulted in an overwhelming victory of the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats, the party founded by the current President Vaclav Klaus. They won in 12 out of 13 assemblies, across the country. The ruling Social Democrats came a humiliating third, lagging behind the largely unreconstructed Communists, who are celebrating their success. Pavla Horakova spoke to political scientist Vladimira Dvorakova and asked her whether the elections, marked by only a 30-percent turnout, should be viewed more as a victory for the Civic Democrats or as a failure for the ruling Social Democrats.
"I think we can speak about a clear victory for the Civic Democrats. This is clear. As for the Social Democrats, I think they supposed the results would be better. If we compare that with the European elections the results are now better than they were four months ago. But on the other hand, I think, that the Social Democrats supposed that they would be able to compete with the Communists and in this case they were not successful."
This has been the second election failure for the Social Democrats this year, after the European Parliament elections: is there a message voters are sending to the governing party?
"This message is not very positive for the Social Democrats. A lot of people are giving protest votes, they are voting against the government but on the other hand there is a problem with a very low turnout and this is a disadvantage for the Social Democrats because they have no core voters as for instance the Civic Democrats or the Communists. So with a lower turnout it's less advantageous for the Social Democrats."
After the poor showing in the European Parliament elections, the head of the party Vladimir Spidla stepped down. Is it now time for the acting party chairman and Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to step down, too, or perhaps is the cause of the election failures somewhere else and not in the person of the chairman?
"I think that the result of the Gross leadership is much better than in the European elections - they gained five percent in fact, so we cannot say that there is any reason for Stanislav Gross to resign. But what is very important for the party is to try and find the reason for such failures and I think the main reasons are in the character of the party, in the lack of personalities. They have no important or famous personalities. And I think that really the only possibility for the Social Democrats is to start again to rebuild the party, to find new personalities, young, educated people. And maybe to do the campaign very strongly connected with the regions. That means not only to have a campaign that is centrally organised but to start with everyday work in the regions."
The Civic Democrats have now clearly won the regional elections for the second time but in parliament they have been in opposition since 1998. Why do you think there is such a difference between voter behaviour in general and regional elections?
"Well, I think the first difference is the turnout. The turnout is different in parliamentary and in regional elections. There are twice as many voters, traditionally, in the parliamentary elections, so there is not such a strong possibility for the Civic Democrats to win with such a strong result. Although it's very probable now that the Civic Democrats will be the victor in the next elections, in 2006. But we shall see, everything can happen."
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