Our defeat today will be a victory tomorrow, Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek said on Monday night. And he may be right.
Last weekend’s European elections were, among other things, a pace lap for the October elections to the lower house. Such a useful public opinion poll on a sample of almost 3 million people brought a few pieces of important information for this autumn’s elections .
First, that the ODS is back in play. Even the Social Democrats admitted it on Monday. The popularity of the ODS decreased from the instant that the government of Mirek Topolánek introduced healthcare fees. It bottomed out during last autumn’s regional elections, when Topolánek suffered a total defeat. Only a week ago did the ODS catch up with the Social Democrats in voter preference. And last weekend’s result confirmed that both parties’ forces are not only equal, but that Topolánek’s can have the edge under certain circumstances.
Second, the ČSSD failed to manage the tactics. Paroubek toppled Topolánek’s government in March, and it did not pay off.
ČSSD voters are not reliable. Even though Tvrdík’s team does know how to campaign and Paroubek might have invested as much as CZK 70 million, typical ČSSD voters did not feel like going to the polls. The party’s base is active when their wallets are involved, in the case of healthcare fees or when the Social Democrats promise to pay a thousand crowns for school accessories. The voters, though, don’t care much about elections in which politicians cannot promise something those things.
Last week, Paroubek therefore declared a 13th pension as the main crowd-puller in the autumn campaign. The tactics are clear: to make more people go to the polls. Tvrdík said on Monday that attacks on Topolánek’s party will continue.
The Civic Democrats fear that the ČSSD will intensify its campaign after the defeat in European elections. So the main ODS tactic is to mobilize against the “red danger” until the autumn. Topolánek announced it in April and confirmed so yesterday. “Another interesting figure, and now I don’t want to create any atmosphere of fear, is an increase of 185,000 votes for the ČSSD and the KSČM against the year 2004,” he said. “That is important for the autumn elections.”
And the result of the European elections provided Topolánek with another way to defeat Paroubek. “Important for the autumn elections is the figure of 573,000 votes that small political entities received, which means votes that fell through,” Topolánek said on Monday.
These votes mean a chance for the ODS. Political scientist Tomáš Lebeda says, however, that Topolánek would have to remove the Eurosceptic label from his party to address voters who otherwise focus on small centre parties. “Up to 75% of ODS voters are liberals, pro-European, while only 3% are Eurosceptics,” political scientist he says.
In the elections for European Parliament, 2.4 million voters went to the polls, while in elections to the lower house usually more than five million people vote. If turnout is high this autumn, the result may be completely different from the one recorded last weekend.