Friday, 22 June 2018

HN: ČSSD's prospects gloomy irrespective of new leader

ČTK |
21 February 2018

Prague, Feb 20 (CTK) - The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) lacks strong leaders and its programme objectives have been "stolen" by the rival ANO movement, which is why the CSSD's prospects are gloomy, whatever it may do now, Petr Honzejk wrote in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Tuesday.

He reacts to a recent congress of the CSSD, the country's former left-wing leader severely defeated in the October general election, at which the party chose a new leader and launched an internal debate on whether to join or support a nascent second government of the election-winning ANO.

The CSSD is pondering on whether to join the government, but, unfortunately, it overlooks far more serious questions of whether it still has things to offer to voters and whether it can survive in the long term, Honzejk writes.

The answer to the questions is not very optimistic, he says.

Democratic left has been declining all over Central Europe, its concept being gradually exhausted with the rising standard of living, Honzejk writes.

In Poland and Hungary, social democracy is marginal. In Germany and Austria, social democracy recently saw its worst results in many decades. The only exception is Slovakia, on which the CSSD pins its hopes as a positive example. However, these hopes are probably irrelevant. Slovak PM Robert Fico has been successful not because he is a social democrat but because he is a strong leader, which is the basic condition of success in current Central European policy, Honzejk writes.

In Hungary and Poland, the policy of a strong leader arose based on nationalist conservatism, while in Slovakia, it arose based on leftist populism, Honzejk says.

Unfortunately for the CSSD, the demand for a strong leader in the Czech Republic has already been met by "Andrej Babis's business effectivism that lacks any values to promote," Honzejk writes, alluding to repeated statements by Babis, a billionaire leader of ANO, PM in resignation and a probable next PM, that he wants to run the state effectively like a business.

Even if the CSSD had a really strong and charismatic leader (which its new chairman Jan Hamacek is not), it would probably be of no use, since the big leader's position is already occupied by Babis in the Czech Republic, Honzejk writes.

Nor can the CSSD rely on its programme. There is nothing it could promise to voters without Babis promising the same to them, Honzejk writes.

Shortly after the autumn elections, Babis asserted that pensions must be increased. The previously traditional voters of the CSSD, who switched to Babis last autumn, may feel satisfied and have no reason to return to the CSSD, Honzejk writes.

To a large extent, Babis has copied the CSSD's programme, doing it like the Chinese copyists of industrial products. Like the Chinese, who do not bother about the copyright, Babis does not bother about the rules of democratic politics. As a result, ANO's programme looks nearly like the original but with far lower costs. Babis complemented it with excellent marketing, which massively attracts the "customers," or leftist voters who do not care about details of democratic procedures, Honzejk writes.

The argument that the CSSD will resurrect as the rightist Civic Democrats (ODS) did is also wrong. Unlike the CSSD, the ODS is an internally stable and unanimously speaking party, and it has something that Babis cannot copy - a good offer for small tradespeople and, generally, for independent people who hate Babis's approach to the state as a business, Honzejk says.

The CSSD has no similar specific offer, nor has it any specific voters to lean on during its resurrection, he writes.

The national-conservative wing of the CSSD believes that the party might attract at least the voters who previously switched to the populist anti-immigration Freedom and Democracy (SPD) of Tomio Okamura. This can hardly be achieved, however. Even if the CSSD started building barricades along the Czech border, Okamura would always build higher ones, Honzejk continues.

It is also impossible to copy the method from the mid-1990s, when then CSSD leader Milos Zeman said the then far-right wingers were but "wild Social Democrats," and succeeded in winning their support. At present, Zeman, who is Czech president, and Okamura, the current far-right winger, side with each other joyfully, while the CSSD is in offside, Honzejk says.

The question is whether participation in Babis's government may save the CSSD. By joining it, the CSSD would in fact admit being "a B team of ANO," he says.

To rise as part of the government, the CSSD would have to appropriate the government's successes, which ANO did as the CSSD's junior partner in the previous government in 2014-2017. However, the CSSD is neither strong nor bold enough to do so, and it lacks personalities. Briefly, the CSSD is too traditional, Honzejk writes.

However, if the CSSD decided not to enter Babis's government, it might get dissolved in the "opposition amalgam," he writes in an allusion to the composition of the Chamber of Deputies in which ANO has 78 of the total 200 seats, the rest being fragmented among the remaining eight minor parties.

Cynics would say the only chance for the CSSD would be an unexpected economic decline, which it could blame on Babis, but the CSSD is hopefully not that cynical, Honzejk writes.

Summed up, the CSSD's prospects are gloomy. It has no strong leader and goals have been siphoned off from its programme by others. Whatever it does, the next election may sink it completely, Honzejk adds.

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