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HN: Change of leader cannot save Social Democrats

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Prague, June 15 (CTK) – The Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) may win a few more percent of the vote in the autumn election thanks to the replacement of their leader, but no breakthrough will come since they have no clear story to tell to the voters, Petr Honzejk says in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Thursday.

The CSSD decided to take a desperate move in face of the threat of a crushing election defeat: Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is taking a step backwards and Lubomir Zaoralek will be the election leader. But the party can expect no miracle to happen since its problem has been much deeper than just the name of its leader, Honzejk writes.

On the other hand, the Social Democrats may feel some hope with Zaoralek at the lead as changes of leaders made shortly before elections seemed to be successful in the Czech Republic, Honzejk writes.

In 2005, Jiri Paroubek replaced Stanislav Gross as CSSD leader and he markedly improved the party’s low popularity and nearly won the elections. When Petr Necas replaced Mirek Topolanek at the helm of the Civic Democrats (ODS) before the 2010 elections, it helped the party, too.

Honzejk says Zaoralek is a good speaker and ANO leader Andrej Babis will not be able to make fun of him as easily as in the case of Sobotka. Unlike Sobotka, Zaoralek had a job outside politics and he speaks foreign languages well.

However, the CSSD first of all needs an attractive story for the voters and such a story is missing. Sobotka tried to tell voters that the party insists on its leftist programme, supports the European Union and NATO and defends democracy against oligarchs, but none of this appealed to them, Honzejk says.

When the CSSD proposed progressive taxation, Babis said he would lower taxes to all. Czechs did not seem interested in the pro-Western heading of their country very much and European integration is rather unpopular in the country. The fight against oligarchs, namely the billionaire Babis, is something that CSSD voters in fact do not understand, Honzejk writes.

He says this was apparent during the government crisis in May when Sobotka’s opposition to Babis was appreciated mainly by those who have never voted for the CSSD and will never do so, while many CSSD voters started supporting Babis in the meantime.

Unlike the CSSD, most Czech parties have a clear programme that can be described in a few words: the right-wing ODS is against regulations and against the euro; the right-wing TOP 09 is against Babis and it supports the EU; the Communists (KSCM) want socialism to return, populist Tomio Okamura wants to beat the Muslims; and ANO promises everything to everybody, Honzejk writes.

The CSSD remains unclear. One day it promotes liberalism and human rights and the other day it sacks Jiri Dienstbier, who represents these ideas in the party, from the government. One day the party tries to make friends with President Milos Zeman and the other day it rejoices that it got rid of Zeman.

The CSSD is a socially conservative pro-EU Eurosceptic ultra-centre-left party, which can never work. The idea that all voters can find something they like in the party’s programme is mistaken. On the contrary, all find something that is repelling for them, Honzejk says.

It does not seem that the Social Democrats would be able to present something highly attractive before the elections, Honzejk writes.

The present leftist voters are not looking for somebody who would give them more welfare but for somebody who can offer them an anchor in the ever-changing world. In the Czech Republic, it is Babis with his idea of running the state like a business who offers this, Honzejk writes.

He says Babis is trusted because he appears to be new and vigorous and, unlike the others, he still did not have enough time to show that he cannot meet the promises he made.

The CSSD in fact has only two paths it can walk if it wants to recover. It can either fully identify with the modern Western left wing, which would be a rather complicated and longer route to take but probably a promising one, or it can move towards defensive nationalism similar to that of Slovak PM Robert Fico, which is something CSSD acting chairman Milan Chovanec would like. This second path would have an immediate effect, but it seems darker, Honzejk writes.

Of course, there is still a third path: the CSSD can do nothing at all. In such a case, the Social Democrats should not be taken by surprise by their total election failure, Honzejk says.

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