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PM to steer his ČSSD more leftward in Sanders style

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Prague, April 21 (CTK) – The strong leftist rhetoric of Bernie Sanders, a Democrat candidate for U.S. president, has enchanted Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka, who wants to steer his Social Democrats (CSSD) more to the left after Sanders’ example, daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes on Thursday.

“My heart beats on the left, it would vote for Sanders,” Sobotka wrote in the CSSD’s internal opinion poll recently.

Now he has told HN that the CSSD is redrafting its political programme to place more emphasis on leftist issues. He considers this a way for the CSSD to effectively compete with its rivals, mainly the ANO movement of billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babis, the daily writes.

“A stronger emphasis on left-wing and liberal positions must be a clear alternative to the populists and conservatives. We are losing our capability of representing the groups of voters on whom we previously relied and who feel abandoned now in face of [the coalition government’s] centrist and compromise policies,” Sobotka said.

The nearest test ahead of ANO and the CSSD, the first and the second most popular party, respectively, will be the regional elections this autumn, and their sharp clash is expected in the general election next year, HN writes.

Sobotka praises Sanders’s skill to win young people’s support for left-wing goals.

Apart from Sanders, the CSSD also likes the style of British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“Those are people who inspire us by their style and swiftness of speech. We have much to learn from them,” the paper quotes Miroslav Poche, a CSSD MEP and election manager, as saying.

Lukas Jelinek, from the party’s commission for political analyses, said the CSSD not only must toughen its leftist positions but also promote them more resolutely.

“The CSSD’s problem is that it is too defensive. It must be a little bit more resolute and principled in its positions. It often comes up with proposals and then gives them up [in reaction to opponents’ pressure],” Jelinek told HN.

As an example he gives the bill that bans ministers from controlling business companies and that many consider aimed against Babis, a food, chemical and media tycoon.

“Originally, the CSSD vehemently supported the bill, known as Lex Babis, which, however, has got stuck undiscussed in the Chamber of Deputies now, also due to the CSSD’s lax approach,” Jelinek said.

The CSSD must steer to the left carefully, however. According to its internal analyses, it has a chance to win support also from the centrist and right-wing voters who would not support it otherwise but who are afraid of the rise of ANO and its possible alliance with President Milos Zeman, HN writes.

In view of the fragmented and weak rightist camp, the CSSD is the only party that is strong enough to compete with Babis’s ANO.

“We should also try to address the voters who would not support us otherwise, since we represent the only barrier against an excessive accumulation of power,” the paper quotes Jan Hamacek, CSSD deputy chairman and head of the Chamber of Deputies, as saying.

“The CSSD has quite a wide potential of lukewarm supporters, whom it has repeatedly failed to mobilise in elections,” said Jan Hartl, sociologist from the STEM polling agency.

He said the CSSD has a chance of attracting about 8 percent of new left-minded and even up to 30 percent of centrist-minded voters.

The rightist opposition admits that the CSSD may present itself as the strongest anti-Babis party.

“However, Sobotka’s role in this respect will be untrustworthy, because in the CSSD, he is rather lonely with his criticism of Zeman, and he even sits on the government together with Babis,” said Marek Zenisek, deputy chairman of the rightist opposition TOP 09.

Babis, for his part, does not fear that Sobotka might gain new supporters from among ANO’s opponents.

“I don’t fear anything. Why should I fear? We will complete our election term as a government coalition [with the CSSD and the Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL), and a free [election] battle will start afterwards,” Babis is quoted as saying.

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