Sunday, 17 December 2017

Sobotka seems to navigate ČSSD back to Zeman's embrace

ČTK |
15 November 2016

Prague, Nov 14 (CTK) - Czech PM and Social Democrat (CSSD) head Bohuslav Sobotka, who is known as President Milos Zeman's opponent in many respects, seems to be steering the CSSD back into the embrace of Zeman, its former chairman who previously fell out with it, Erik Tabery writes in weekly Respekt out on Monday.

Sobotka's former courageous policy is now being replaced with chaos, mistakes and steps that are hard to comprehend, such as the infamous devout apology to China for the Dalai Lama's visit to Prague and the planned cabinet reshuffle, Tabery writes.

By his chaotic steps, which he does not try to explain to people at all, Sobotka not only weakens his previous positive achievements but also endangers the Czech Republic's future, Tabery writes.

He remembers Sobotka's speech at the November 17 national holiday celebration last year, in which he resolutely rejected Zeman's hate policy and offered a clear liberal and pro-Western orientation including Prague's active co-responsibility for tackling European problems.

Since then, Sobotka has repeatedly clashed with Zeman, populists, the nationalist-tinged partners in the Visegrad Four group, which also includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, and CSSD members as well, Tabery writes.

However, Sobotka's policy suddenly changed ahead of the October regional and Senate elections. He almost disappeared from the domestic scene after the media wrote about his support for the humiliating letter to China, which was also by Zeman and the heads of the two houses of parliament, Tabery writes.

After the election failure of his pro-Zeman opponents in the CSSD, including Michal Hasek, Jaroslav Foldyna and Zdenek Skromach, Sobotka did not use the opportunity to launch a counter-offensive but he started doing just the opposite. True, he verbally promotes the need for the CSSD to also address centrist voters, young ones and residents of towns, but in fact he is navigating the party in the opposite direction, Tabery writes.

In reaction to a public opinion poll that showed the CSSD's popularity having shrunk to 14 percent, Sobotka made a baffling decision to replace some CSSD ministers because they look tired, Tabery writes.

No one understands this, not even Sobotka's supporters in the CSSD. A group of young Social Democrats, who helped him parry an internal coup, which Hasek and Zeman initiated after the 2013 general election, criticised his heralded plan to dismiss liberal-minded ministers, Tabery writes.

"The aim of the CSSD chairman's steps is incomprehensible. We feel worried about the unfortunate timing of the announced changes...and about a missing clear strategy," the group wrote.

On Friday, their apprehensions came true. Sobotka announced the sacking of Human Rights Minister Jiri Dienstbier, a firm supporter of modern social democracy, Tabery writes.

The other minister to leave is Health Minister Svatopluk Nemecek. Absurdly, another liberal minister, Michaela Marksova, has not been sacked probably only because no one showed interest in her arduous sector of labour and social affairs, Tabery writes.

In addition, Dienstbier will be replaced by unimpressive CSSD lawmaker Jan Chvojka, and Nemecek by Miloslav Ludvik (CSSD), the king of dubious political dealings in Prague, Tabery continues.

"I simply want the Social Democrat course to be clearer," Sobotka explained, but his new course remains incomprehensible to both his aides and the broad public, Tabery writes.

Sobotka's support for the humiliating letter to China, his reluctance to dismiss Trade Minister Jan Mladek (CSSD) after his defeat in the Senate elections, and the replacement of Dienstbier with Chvojka, who wants the CSSD to support Zeman's re-election as president in 2018, indicates a change in his orientation, Tabery writes.

This is as if Sobotka has complied with the demand by Zeman's supporters in the CSSD who want the party to return into the embrace of Zeman, the party's former chairman (1993-2001) who fell out with it in the mid-2000s. Sobotka evidently believes that this will raise his own chance of being re-elected CSSD head next spring and winning support of leftist voters now that liberal voters criticise him for kowtowing to China, Tabery writes.

Sobotka's steps may be his tactical manoeuvres, but evidently based on emotions rather than rational thinking, because they have weakened his own position and strengthened Andrej Babis, finance minister and head of the ANO movement, Tabery writes.

Until now, Babis has been stripping the CSSD of its elderly voters, but now the CSSD will probably lose younger supporters as well. Unfortunately, this will result not only in the probable fall of Sobotka, but also a further decline of the ailing liberal streams on the Czech political scene, Tabery writes.

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