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Social Democrats to choose new leader

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Prague, Feb 15 (CTK) – The congress of the Czech Social Democrats (CSSD) that will take place in Hradec Kralove, east Bohemia, on Sunday, four months after the party was routed in the October general election, is to elect the new party leader.

The delegates will make the choice from acting party leader Milan Chovanec, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies and party deputy chairman Jan Hamacek, former South Bohemia regional governor Jiri Zimola and another four candidates.

At the beginning, the congress will be visited by a former party leader, President Milos Zeman.

The congress is to say whether the Social Democrats should negotiate on government cooperation with Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO.

The post of party leader will also be contested by former Military Intelligence Service head Miroslav Krejcik, Ceska Lipa, north Bohemia, Mayor Romana Zatecka, Olomouc Mayor Antonin Stanek and the director of the urban library in Policka, east Bohemia, Jan Jukl.

Chovanec was nominated by three regional branches and Hamacek by five.

The rest of the candidates must rely on the secret vote by over 550 delegates who may not respect behind-the-scenes deals.

At the weekend, the party board proposed that the speeches by candidates for the party leader and by Zeman should be the only public parts of the congress.

The discussion and speeches by candidates for the posts of deputy chairpersons are to be held behind the closed door.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and chairman of the CMKOS umbrella trade union Josef Stredula will be among the guests to the congress.

In the past weeks, most candidates addressed the Social Democrat rank-and-file by letters in which they outlined their plans.

Before the forthcoming local and Senate elections, they often offer to cement the visibly divided membership base.

Stanek stressed that he was not linked to any of the existing factions, Hamacek spoke about his experience when hammering out compromises and Krejcik offered his experience from the leading managerial posts.

The delegates may also be split on the attitude to the presence in the new government.

The new leadership is to receive the resolution from the delegates saying whether the party should stay in opposition or whether it should negotiate on a coalition with ANO. The former is preferred by Chovanec and Zatecka, while Hamacek, Zimola, Krejcik and Stanek tend to advocate the latter.

Hamacek says along the model of the German Social Democrats, the outcome of the coalition talks should be reviewed by a party referendum.

Chovanec invited Zeman to the congress after he had personally come to support him in the runoff of the recent presidential election, in which Zeman defeated academic Jiri Drahos.

Zeman has said he will not back any candidate at the congress.

He said the Social Democrats were at the rock bottom and deeply split.

Zeman did not receive any invitation to the previous Social Democrat congress, held last year. It was due to his tense relation with former Social Democrat leader, another former prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Due to the party’s low voter preferences, Sobotka stepped down a few months later.

The relationship to Zeman is one of the topics over which Social Democrat are divided.

The Social Democrats only received 7.3 percent and 15 mandates in the October general election, a far cry from the victorious 2013 general elections, in which they obtained 20.5 percent and 50 mandates in the 200-member lower house.

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