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Respekt: President Zeman fails to make PM Sobotka fall

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Prague, Feb 22 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman succeeded in making himself more popular in the country, but he has so far failed to achieve his main goal, or to get rid of Prime Minister and Social Democrat (CSSD) leader Bohuslav Sobotka, weekly Respekt writes in its latest issue.

Zeman has been indicating every week that the CSSD should get rid of its chairman. He claimed that Sobotka is no socialist at all, that he betrayed the country or would soon end up alone due to his stance on the migrant crisis, Respekt writes.

The 44-year-old Sobotka calls for solidarity with people fleeing from war, while the 71-year-old Zeman warns against Islamic radicals.

Zeman’s statements challenge Sobotka’s capabilities in public and exert pressure on the government, Respekt writes.

Those who have been watching Sobotka’s political career for more than 20 years, would have expected him to withdraw in defence and control everything in a clerk-like manner. But Sobotka made a surprising move by accepting Zeman’s battle challenge late last year, Respekt writes.

Zeman seemed to be taken by surprise by Sobotka’s attitude the most of all. The president does not have to take any unpopular decisions and he is actually the best paid commentator in the country to whom the constitution guarantees that he does not bear responsibility for his steps. This means that nobody can win a clash with the president in the eyes of the public, Respekt says.

The Czech prime minister and president markedly differ in their perspectives. Sobotka wants to do his utmost to prevent the EU from falling apart, Russia from gaining control in Ukraine and Syria, and extremists from getting strong in the Czech Republic. Zeman, on the contrary, considers Brussels an enemy centre and he defends the Russian expansionist policy. Last week, he even supported Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Moscow’s ally, calling him the least evil in the region, Respekt writes.

The position of Sobotka is extremely difficult. His coalition partner is the very ambitious Andrej Babis whose ANO movement won nearly the same voter support as the CSSD and it may win the next elections. President Zeman is openly hostile and politicians who tried to topple Sobotka shortly after the last election remain CSSD members, Respekt writes.

The prime minister might have not be seriously bothered about this, unless the refugee crisis broke out, unless the nationalist streams in the surrounding postcommunist states and Russia’s enemy ambitions got stronger and unless the EU faced the threat of disintegration, Respekt writes.

The secret meeting of Zeman with then CSSD deputy chairmen Michal Hasek and Zdenek Skromach and their other influential colleagues that discussed how to topple Sobotka after the 2013 elections has shown that Zeman is ready to do anything to remove of Sobotka from the top, Respekt writes.

Given the president’s high popularity, it is noteworthy that Zeman has been unsuccessful in his effort to make Sobotka fall, Respekt writes.

However, the unemployment rate is falling and the economy is growing and the Czechs have little to complain about. They mostly do not want to help refugees in any way and they fear a migrant influx, but most of them can see that the country is far from being flooded by migrants. Moreover, Sobotka preaches solidarity with migrants but he does not want them to arrive in the country.

Respekt writes that the CSSD group that plotted against Sobotka fell apart: Milan Chovanec joined Sobotka’s camp, Jiri Zimola focuses merely on his region, South Bohemia, and Michal Hasek has discredited himself by claiming that he had not taken part in the meeting that planned the coup in the party.

Politicians also seem to realise that it is no victory to become Zeman’s favourite. The Party of Citizens’ Rights of Milos Zeman had such a bad result in the last elections that Zeman himself demanded that his name be deleted from the party’s name. Even politicians who like Zeman decided that he is not a player on whom they should put their stake, Respekt writes.

Social Democrat politicians can see that Zeman’s attacks are directed against the whole CSSD. Zeman in fact helps the party to get united and support Sobotka, Respekt says.

This situation may nevertheless change after polls, first of which will be the regional elections in the autumn. If the CSSD fails in these elections, Sobotka’s position will weaken. As Zeman is well aware of it, he recently repeatedly supported Babis. Zeman’s spokesman said last week that the CSSD abandoned traditional left-wing topics and that ANO would certainly take them over, Respekt writes.

Sobotka applied an effective strategy for the regional elections. He did not stop his opponents such as Hasek and Zimola from becoming leading candidates in their regions and he even pushed through Zeman’s ally Jaroslav Foldyna as regional leader. When his opponents will be seeking their election victory, they will be working towards his own success, Respekt writes.

Sobotka has persuaded some of his allies from the government and other bodies to join the CSSD, Respekt says, mentioning state secretary for European affairs Tomas Prouza and Education Minister Katerina Valachova.

Sobotka generally bets on the younger generations of politicians as well as voters and supporters. He believes that those aged under 50 welcome the post-communist development of the country and its links to the West that give them opportunities to study, travel and work, Respekt writes.

The Sobotka vs Zeman dispute is a conflict over the road the Czech Republic is going to take. The developments in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia clearly show how easily the orientation of the state can be shifted. Zeman is not strong enough to steer the country towards the East, but he has many opportunities to introduce Eastern rules, Respekt writes.

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