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Part of ČSSD election congress to be held behind closed doors

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Prague, Feb 10 (CTK) – A part of the election congress of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) may be held behind closed doors next weekend, the party’s acting head Milan Chovanec said after a meeting of the CSSD broad leadership on Saturday.

He said journalists should be let to listen to the address by President Milos Zeman, with which the congress will open in Hradec Kralove, east Bohemia, on February 18, and following addressed of the CSSD politicians running for the party’s new leader.

“The Social Democrats have the right to deal with their affairs without the supervision of cameras,” Chovanec said.

Former regional governor Jiri Zimola, who is also running for chairman, shares this view.

“I am rather open and I don’t mind if some things are said openly as well, but this situation seems to be so drastic for the party that even I believe that this should happen behind closed doors. One wouldn’t start a husband-wife fight in front of the neighbours and the whole house,” Zimola said.

President Zeman, who was CSSD prime minister in 1998-2002, will address the more than 550 delegates shortly after the opening of the congress. Then a new leadership will be elected.

Chovanec said the congress is likely to be suspended for a few months so that changes in the party’s statutes can be thoroughly discussed before a vote is taken on them. He said May seemed to be a realistic date for the vote on the statutes. Zimola said he believed the vote could be held sooner.

Chovanec, Zimola and lower house deputy head Jan Hamacek are considered the favourites for the next CSSD leader.

A few months before the October 2017 general election, prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka gave up the posts of CSSD chairman and election leader. Chovanec, then interior minister, temporarily replaced him and then foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek became the party’s new election leader.

The general election was clearly won by CSSD’s government partner, the ANO movement of billionaire Andrej Babis, which gained 78 MPs in the 200-seat lower house of parliament. The CSSD defended only 15 of its 50 seats, which has been its worst election result so far.

Babis formed a minority cabinet, but it failed to win support from the lower house in January and now it rules the country in resignation. The re-elected President Zeman entrusted Babis gave another opportunity to form a stable government. Babis said he would prefer an alliance on the CSSD, but the Social Democrats are divided on the issue.

The candidates for the party leader have different attitudes on the possible government cooperation with the ANO movement and Babis. Hamacek wants to launch negotiations with ANO about the programme of the next government.

Zimola would also like to talk with Babis about a government coalition, but he said the CSSD must not be in an inferior position in the government.

Chovanec, who repeatedly clashed with Babis, former finance minister, in the previous cabinet, is rather spectical about cooperation with ANO. He says a prosecuted person should not be a minister.

Last year, the Czech police launched criminal prosecution of Babis over a suspected EU subsidy fraud.

Zimola said he respected the presumption of innocence. Babis’s prosecution is an issue for ANO to deal with now.

The party congress or, even better, all CSSD members should take a vote on the coalition, Zimola said, referring to the German Social Democrats (SPD) who negotiated about a grand coalition with Merkel.

Zimola challenged the view that the congress would have enough time to declare a resolute stance on the government cooperation with ANO next week.

Chovanec, on the other hand, hopes that the congress would agree on how to further proceed and whether to to be in the government or in opposition. He said the congress should take the final vote on this in May.

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