Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka stood for re-election of the Social Democrats at the party’s congress at the weekend and received 67 percent support from delegates, a somewhat lukewarm result given that he ran unopposed. Many would argue in an election year there was no advantage of changing horses midstream; also most are aware that it will be Mr Sobotka left holding the bag if the Social Democrats fail to triumph in the parliamentary elections this autumn.
Surveys have routinely put the Social Democrats behind Finance Minister Andrej Babis’ ANO and this weekend there was more of the same. The latest survey conducted by Kantar TNS for public broadcaster Czech TV, made public on Saturday at the same time as the Social Democratic party’s congress, suggested yet another distant second: ANO, if the vote were held today, would win with 32 percent of the vote while the Social Democrats would finish far behind, with just 15 percent; the closest rival after that, just ten.
In 2013, the Social Democrats barely pipped ANO to head the current coalition; as chairman this weekend, Mr Sobotka made clear he would fight tooth and nail to clinch a win again.
“I am not used to giving up or giving ground… In 2013, I fought a resolution in our own party I considered wrong and I fought for things our party had agreed in the coalition agreement when our partner began pushing in a different direction.
“We didn’t give up as a party and I didn’t give up as prime minister. I want to win the elections and I will not discuss what happens if we come second.”
Some political analysts suggest that there is no reason the Social Democrats won’t be able to chip away at ANO’s lead and close the gap. The projected 32 percent lead for ANO could evaporate and support for the Social Democrats could firm up ahead of the actual vote. It is lost on no one, however, that if the Social Democrats do fail to win, it will be Mr Sobotka’s political future on the line. Despite displays of unity at the party congress in Brno, there is a wing more than willing to cast Mr Sobotka aside, if he fails to get results. Radko Kubíčko, a commentator for Czech Radio Plus, summarised the situation like this:
“I think that there is marked opposition, after all some 201 delegates did not support Mr Sobotka even though he ran unchallenged. If the Social Democrats do come second, I think he will be forced to step down. Despite claims that the party will not enter into a new coalition with ANO as anything other than winners, [there are those in the party who are more inclined to deal].”
The interpretation is that some members of the Social Democrats are biding their time, taking a wait-and-see approach. If the Social Democrats score a dramatic upset, more power to Mr Sobotka. Otherwise, Mr Kubíčko suggests, others will be calling the shots.
For his part, Mr Sobotka at the congress wasted no time throwing down the gauntlet: in his speech for re-election as chairman, he cast his party as a guarantor of democratic principles and continuity; he has repeatedly cast the Social Democrats as the only ones capable of stopping ANO led by billionaire and former businessman Andrej Babiš.