Thursday, 17 April 2014

Právo: Zeman's election might strengthen Communist Party

29 January 2013

Prague, Jan 28 (CTK) - The Communists (junior opposition KSCM) may become the strongest political party in the Czech Republic thanks to the fresh victory of former socialist prime minister Milos Zeman in the direct presidential election, Jiri Pehe writes in the left-wing daily Pravo yesterday.

The KSCM has influenced the presidential election for the third time, but now it even will markedly profit from its result, Pehe writes, recalling the previous two elections in which outgoing President Vaclav Klaus was elected by parliament.

The Communists clearly supported Zeman against Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) in the presidential runoff.

Zeman claims that he will not directly influence the situation in the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), whose leader he was in the 1990s. He may keep his word, but his presidency will significantly strengthen the group of his supporters in the CSSD anyway, Pehe points out.

Paradoxically, the strengthening of the Zeman camp among Social Democrats that is not on very good terms with the current CSSD leadership will make the small Party of Citizens' Rights (SPOZ) whose honorary chairman Zeman is less important, Pehe writes.

The SPOZ was formed around Zeman in 2009. It failed to enter parliament in the 2010 general election and opinion polls indicate that it might narrowly cross the threshold to enter parliament if elections were held now. Zeman left the CSSD in 2007, after a clash with its then leader Jiri Paroubek (now National Socialists, LEV21-NS).

Pehe says the CSSD, which has been the clearly most popular party in the country for a few years, would be weakened by conflicts between the pro-Zeman wing and the official leadership headed by Bohuslav Sobotka.

Any weakening of the CSSD means that the KSCM will improve its position, he adds.

Pehe notes that the KSCM became more popular than the CSSD under the rule of Zeman's government in 2000. This situation reoccurred twice, in 2003 and 2005 when the Social Democrats were torn by internal disputes.

The crisis that will be almost certainly caused by Zeman's presidency can make the Communists not only the strongest Czech left-wing party, but also the strongest party in the country because the right-wing parties are facing a decline, Pehe writes.

The Communists used good tactics when they did not nominate their own candidate in the presidential election because they would have to deal with their candidate's failure after the first round. Moreover, the KSCM candidate would have to challenge Zeman in some way in the first round, which would make support for Zeman more difficult in the second round, Pehe writes.

Thanks to this strategy, the KSCM could back the only "left-wing" candidate without any reservations in the election runoff, Pehe says.

It was wonderful news for the KSCM that Zeman's rival in the runoff was the conservative aristocrat Schwarzenberg, not CSSD's candidate Jiri Dienstbier or former caretaker cabinet head Jan Fischer (unaffiliated) because Dienstbier is leftist, too, and Fischer was backed by a number of KSCM followers, Pehe writes.

It was even better news for the Communists that Zeman decided to attack Schwarzenberg using issues related to the post-war Benes Decrees, nationalist sentiment and prejudices. Zeman in fact acted in the same way as a Communist candidate would have done, Pehe says.

For symbolical reasons, the KSCM considers it crucial that Zeman has won the presidency thanks to traditionally "communist" issues, he adds.

As a result, the Communists may be the only big stable party in the Czech Republic soon, Pehe writes.

Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus actually contributed to the destruction of the Civic Democrats (ODS). TOP 09 may temporarily become more popular thanks to Schwarzenberg, but the unpopularity of its first deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek will prevent it from turning into a big stable party, Pehe writes.

The only remaining big party is the CSSD, but its future is uncertain with Zeman as president. Even if the CSSD manages to cope with its internal disputes, especially younger voters will interpret the strengthening of the Zeman camp in the CSSD as a step from modernisation efforts back to a post-communist left-wing party, Pehe says.

Such a CSSD will probably be able to find common ground with the Communists more easily, but it has no chance of becoming a dominant power in Czech society in the long term, Pehe concludes.

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