According to a confidential report cited by Hospodářské noviny (HN) and reportedly commissioned by the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS), the party of PM Petr Nečas has a chance of winning the leadership in just one of the Czech Republic’s 14 regions in next year’s regional elections. 2012 will also see elections to some seats in the Senate that could be key in the election of a successor to President Václav Klaus.
Later on Tuesday, ODS released a statement denying the poll contained a report on preferences in each region, but was conducted among 3,078 respondents across the country and maps the party's popularity on the national level, but not for each region.
HN said the daily's editors had “acquainted themselves” with the report the internal ODS report, which paints such a bleak picture of the party’s current standings that it had been kept from most of the party’s rank-and-file members. Both Nečas and the ODS’ election manager, Jan Kočí, refused to comment on the report on the grounds that it is an “internal party matter.”
“In a number of regions, the ODS won’t have it easy also because we’re in power,” the former governor of the Central Bohemia region, Petr Bendl, told HN. “In Central Bohemia, I believe we have a chance, but that’s not an excuse to rest on our laurels. It’s due to the fact that current Governor, David Rath (Social Democrats – ČSSD), is helping us through his [unpopular] policies,” said Bendl, who hopes to stand against Rath next year.
Damaging alliances with ČSSD
According to the report cited by HN, another reason the center-right party has a chance to retake the leadership of the Central Bohemian reason is that A similar defeat could have worse consequences for Petr Nečas because since 2010 the party has not achieved any notable success in by-elections. it didn’t form an alliance with the main opposition ČSSD in the region’s assembly. Such alliances were formed in a number of regions, including in Prague, and have proved highly unpopular with voters. A number of protests against the ODS–ČSSD alliance in Prague were staged both in and in front of Prague City Hall last year.
“In the regions where we are in power together with the ČSSD, which make up the majority (of regions), it won’t be easy,” MEP and member of the ODS leadership, Jan Zahradil, told HN. “In regions such as Zlín, and north and south Bohemia, our [regional] leaders will struggle to compete against the ČSSD.”
The ODS was squarely defeated in the regional elections four years ago that almost cost the party’s then leader and prime minister, Miroslav Topolánek, his post. A similar defeat could have worse consequences for Nečas because since parliamentary elections in 2010 the ODS has not achieved any notable success in by-elections, and various opinion polls indicate the party’s popularity has dropped to around 20 percent.
Considering the current low ratings, financial constraints stemming from over-spending in the 2010 campaigns, and the poor showing in the previous regional elections, the ODS managers are considering centralizing the party’s campaign next year: “Experience from previous elections clearly shows that it’ll be better to have centralized themes, obvious propositions being healthcare and education,” the leader of ODS’s club of MPs and head of the party’s Moravia and Silesia branch, Zbyněk Stanjura, told HN.
Preparating for dignified defeat
A leader of a regional ODS branch who wished to remain anonymous told HN that in the upcoming regional elections the challenges facing the party will be compounded by the fact that many of the candidates do not now hold prominent positions and are thus unknown to the electorate. This was not the situation four years ago, when many of the ODS regional candidates were serving or former regional governors. ‘The presidential elections won’t be at all about nominating our own candidates but about how dignified the defeat will be.’
In 2012, the ODS will also defend 14 of its 25 seats in by-elections to the 81-seat Senate — the upper house of the Czech parliament. The internal report cited by HN indicates that the party will most probably lose the majority of those 14 seats. The results will thus have an impact on presidential elections later in 2012, that is if the election laws are not changed and direct presidential elections are not introduced.
“The presidential elections won’t be at all about nominating our own candidates but about how dignified the defeat will be,” a former member of the ODS leadership told HN under condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday afternoon, ODS released a statement confirming the existence of the internal poll, but said it only pertains to national ratings and that “media information that the poll referred to ratings in the regions was false.” Nevertheless, the press release contained no information about which agency conducted the poll and presented the results to the party.
“In my opinion, ‘íčko’ [nickname of former interior minister and deputy ODS leader Ivan Langer] put it [the poll] into the papers,” a senior ODS figure told Czech Position on condition of anonymity. “Only the party manager, Jan Kočí, can confirm or deny this theory, because he must have commissioned and paid someone for the study. Previously it was only the party chairman who ordered such studies. They were never ordered regularly,” the source said.
Langer, who recently founded the agency CI Consult & Research which specializes in opinion polls, denied he was responsible for the study. “I didn’t do anything with the regional elections and I didn’t commission a public opinion poll from anyone. And if the ODS did commission it somewhere, then I would know about it. In my opinion there is no such poll,” Langer told Czech Position.
Although no longer a minister, Langer reportedly continues to wield considerable influence within the ODS. The weekly Týden recently reported that Langer meets with PM Nečas once a month to discuss a range of political and internal party affairs.
Martin Shabu contributed to this article.