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LN: Autumn polls to influence future of ČSSD head, PM

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Prague, Aug 8 (CTK) – The results of the October regional and Senate elections in the Czech Republic will indicate the future position of the senior government Social Democrat (CSSD) chairman and PM, Bohuslav Sobotka, daily Lidove noviny (LN) wrote on Monday.

It says Sobotka’s situation in the CSSD is not easy. Since his election as its chairman in 2011, speculations have emerged in the CSSD about a possible successor due to his alleged lack of charisma and dullness.

The last failed attempt to topple Sobotka occurred three years ago when a group of his internal opponents headed by regional governor Michal Hasek secretly agreed with President Milos Zeman on the formation of a new government to oust Sobotka. Now, 15 months before the next general election, the word “putsch” is mentioned in the CSSD again, LN writes, referring to three influential Social Democrats whom it addressed.

They confirm that a part of the CSSD members are not satisfied with Sobotka’s leadership. Their main argument is a decline in the voter support in which the CSSD lags behind the government ANO movement by up to 10 percent at time of economic growth and a quite high popularity of the coalition government, comprising also the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).

LN says the decisive moment for Sobotka will be the regional and Senate elections’ results.

Regional politicians make up a significant power pillar of the CSSD that holds the posts of 11 out of 13 regional governors and in the remaining two regions, it is in the ruling coalitions at least. The CSSD is also part of the coalition in Prague where the election is held in two years.

This is why it will be difficult for the CSSD to preserve its strong position in the regions.

Sobotka told LN in January that he would like to have at least seven regional governors after the election. Voices in the CSSD say five posts would be the borderline between the election success and failure.

If the CSSD won fewer than five regions and lost five or six regional coalitions, it might stir up a wave of up to 200 dissatisfied delegates to the CSSD congress to be held next spring, two experienced Social Democrats told LN, adding that the previous party congress was attended by 752 delegates.

However, if this scenario occurred, it is hard to say who would lead the protesting party members, LN writes, adding that Hasek, who was Sobotka’s main rival in 2013, is now politically insignificant.

Zeman considers CSSD first deputy head and Interior Minister Milan Chovanec an ideal candidate for Sobotka’s competitor.

LN writes that Chovanec was one of the CSSD “putchists” who allied with Zeman with the aim to topple Sobotka three years ago. However, Chovanec confessed to it, expressed regret and Sobotka “gave him mercy.”

According to LN sources, Zeman advised ANO chairman Andrej Babis to ally with Chovanec to jointly remove Sobotka from the top.

Nevertheless, at present Babis and Chovanec are key political rivals and they do not stand one another personally either.

Moreover, Chovanec and Sobotka are linked to influential acquaintances – defence lawyer Radek Pokorny and Milos Ruzicka, co-owner of the powerful consulting company Bison&Rose, respectively. If this quartet disintegrated, which is not probable, it might have devastating consequences for the CSSD, LN writes.

It says Sobotka is usually criticised by his fellow party members for the lack of charisma and a soft approach to his rivals in the government, such as Babis.

But Sobotka compensates these shortcomings by his skilful internal diplomacy. He keeps his potential competitors in the party, such as Hasek, Prague Social Democrat Petr Hulinsky and MP Jeronym Tejc, quite close to himself not to give them space to build up their own “allied forces” in several regions, LN points out.

The only factor that could threaten Sobotka’s position at the CSSD’s helm would be a crushing defeat in the autumn elections, and a subsequent immense weakening of the party’s regional position. It would mean a high number of delegates leaving for the CSSD congress in March in a very bad mood provoked by their loss of lucrative posts in the regions, LN writes.

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