Communists being courted in political battle ahead of autumn general elections

An unwritten political agreement about keeping the Communist Party out of top-level politics in the Czech Republic may be about to end. Shortly after the ANO party indicated the possibility of entering into a coalition with them following the autumn general election, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said his Social Democrats would also be ready to accept them in a broad coalition government with a pro-European and social perspective. I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe about the implications of this development.

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Khalil BaalbakiBohuslav Sobotka, photo: Khalil Baalbaki “I think Mr. Sobotka had several reasons for making the statement, the most important of which is that Mr. Babiš himself indicated that his ANO party would not be totally opposed to governing with the Communists or with support from the Communist Party. So I think that Mr. Sobotka is trying to pre-empt here, because after the elections we may indeed witness a situation where the alternatives will be Mr. Babiš with the Communists, or the Social Democrats with the Communists. So I think that Mr. Sobotka is letting the Communist Party know that Mr. Babis is not the only possible bride.”

The Social Democrat leader’s position within the party has not been very strong these past few months. Will this statement help him or hurt him? Is the party ready to enter into an alliance with the Communists?

“It is difficult to say whether Mr. Sobotka’s remarks about the possibility of including the Communists in the government would increase the popularity of the Social Democrats. At the same time it is true that the discussion about whether to govern with the Communists or not is long overdue simply because the Social Democrats already govern with the Communists in some regions and so the so-called Bohumín declaration (1995) that prohibited a government with the Communists is in some ways obsolete. So I do not find Mr. Sobotka’s statement surprising, what I find surprising is that he is making these statements without any kind of deeper discussion within his own party.”

And what about the public? Is the public ready to accept the Communists at government level?

Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip, photo: Filip JandourekCommunist Party leader Vojtěch Filip, photo: Filip Jandourek “I think that Mr. Sobotka is probably not making the statements about involving the Communists in government without some kind of background information that he may have from private opinion polls or surveys that the Social Democratic Party or he himself has at his disposal, simply because it seems to me that the public is no longer entirely opposed to the participation of the Communist Party in government. It has accepted quite well the Communists’ presence in regional government, and in fact the Communist government in North Bohemia, so I think that, in general, the Social Democrats would probably not be hurt –in the eyes of the public - by what Mr. Sobotka said. The question we have to ask is whether Sobotka means this as some kind of strategic goal of uniting the Left or whether he, as I presume, made those statements simply to offer an alternative to what could be, in the eyes of many people, a much more risky alliance between Mr. Babiš and the Communists or Mr. Babiš and, let us say, Mr. Okamura who heads an extreme right party.”