While the victorious Social Democrats (ČSSD) are sailing forth with favourable wind, Topolánek’s vessel resembles Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat, the “boat lost in the hair of bays, hurled by a hurricane”. And the mood that will prevail on board will be essential not only for the cabinet’s existence, but also for the further development of our politics. Will it be panic, mutual accusations, battles causing decay or a cold analysis, search for a new direction and for new leaders?
The one who hid in the mist
It was the first time in history of ODS when one part of the steadfast party supporters did not have any reason to go to the elections or gave their voice to somebody else.
This mutiny shows the current ODS with their cynical buying of votes, MPs’ blackmail, dismissive enforcement of the reform “good” without a satisfactory explanation is unacceptable even to voters who don’t like the left.
Moravian Regional Governor, Evžen Tošenovský, one of the defeated, can chafe a hundred times over the media magic spun by the ČSSD’s American advisers. These experienced and slick spin doctors identified the most vulnerable spot of Othe DS: Minister Julínek and his healthcare reform.
It is not so much about Julínek’s medical fees, since the majority of people would be willing to accept them in the end. It is about the ODS allowing the fees to become the only result of Julínek’s plans that remain disquietingly hazy.
Inevitably, the fact that prominent doctors, deans and academics rebelled against Julínek’s plans to privatise health insurance companies and teaching hospitals, was predestined to catch the attention of the public. And so, the Prime Minister forced Julínek to postpone his plan for an unspecified period after ČSSD headquarters started to target the Health Minister with well-aimed missiles. This move, however, only intensified the public’s suspicion that ODS helmsmen are planning something fishy.
Execution of the act of doom
ODS regional governors themselves drilled more holes under the boat’s level of immersion.
Their focused attempt to cut themselves away from the government looked somewhat foresighted. But since the ČSSD turned the elections into a referendum about Topolánek’s cabinet, the governors’ tactics seemed to turn against them on certain levels. Their stepping away from Topolánek might have been perceived as a premeditated attempt at getting rid of responsibility for the image of the party that got them triumphantly into the regional councils four years ago.
The Morava-Tlustý case was more of an event which topped up the act of doom itself. Paradoxically, it wasn’t even thanks to the guilt of both its sad heroes since Jan Morava has not been known to the public and Vlastimil Tlustý was in fact a write-off politician at the time.
It was more connected to the fact that the PM was not capable of (or could not?) dispel the suspicion that his close colleagues knew about Morava’s strange tactics and thus were also involved in the scandal. Or that the blackmail and extortion were among the practices of the biggest governmental party.
What awaits the ODS? This is the party’s first serious election loss under Topolánek’s leadership. This leaves some hope for his survival in the PM’s seat at least.
It will depend mostly on Topolánek’s willingness to reconstruct the government and thus change the image of the cabinet, which failed to defend its policies in the elections. Neither the ministers, nor the Prime Minster managed to tell the voters what their goal was. Topolánek and Julínek’s defence of the medical fees in front of the Constitutional Court is one of the examples.
Topolánek has confirmed that he is planning to defend the position of party leader at the congress. But that means he should offer the delegates a feasible plan, clearly state which fundamental laws can still be implemented by the cabinet and how. All this cannot be done without the departure of those ministers who became unacceptable for the public over the last two years. And they have to be replaced by politicians, who do not need to be top party members, but rather experts, including a top economist, capable of explaining their ideas to the public and implementing them.
To take advantage of such an earthquake among his own ministers would enable Topolánek to put a knife to the throat of the Christian Democrats and demand that they remove the notorious and Jiří Čunek, whose position is weaker following the elections.
Even if Topolánek manages to push this revolution through, it would not necessarily mean that it will allow him to remain head of the party. It is predominantly central Bohemian ODS representatives who think Topolánek should give up his leadership and remain Prime Minister during the EU presidency.
Who would replace him as party leader remains uncertain. Prague Mayor Bém would probably not be the best representative of a party that is trying to rid itself of moral nihilism which has been ruling it since the opposition agreement. Somebody from among the former governors? They could hardly promote themselves after the lost elections.
The ODS is now facing tough times. And it can no longer postpone a thorough renewal, something the party has been successfully avoiding since the fall of Klaus’ government 10 years ago.
This article was translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.