The main opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD) have elected Bohuslav Sobotka as party chairman by a narrow margin; in a subsequent round of voting, his main rival for the top position, Michal Hašek, was elected first deputy chairman of the center-left party.
“This is a heavy responsibility; for me, it’snot only an obligation for these [next] two years, but for my whole life ... We need people to again trust that politics in this country can be done differently; that policies can be decent, rational and just,” said Sobotka, 39, in his victory speech Friday evening.
Sobotka had served as the ČSSD acting chairman since the resignation of former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek last spring. In the second round of voting for the party chairmanship, held on Friday evening, Sobotka received 304 votes; Hašek, the South Moravia Region Governor, received 285 votes. ‘We need people to again trust that politics in this country can be done differently; that policies can be decent, rational and just.’
Sobotka was first elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1996, becoming President of the Parliament in 2001. The following year, he entered the cabinet as finance minister during the government of Vladimír Špidla, and held the post until 2006. Sobotka was also Deputy Prime Minister from 2003–04 and 2005–06, in two ČSSD governments.
Hašek, 34, then defeated lower house deputy head Lubomír Zaoralek in the contest for first deputy chairman after receiving the support of 363 of 580 delegates at the party congress in Brno, which is to continue today. Prior to the election, Central Bohemia Region Governor David Rath and ČSSD deputy head Zdeněk Škromach bowed out of the contest.
“I do not think that two camps should be in the ČSSD. There is one Social Democracy and I suppose that my colleague Hašek will be loyal to the ČSSD chairman — as he said here at the congress,” Sobotka said, as cited by the ČTK news agency, commenting on his rival’s election to the second position.
Although in the opposition, the ČSSD won the largest number of parliamentary seats in the May 2010 general election but were kept from power by center-right factions that formed a coalition. The Social Democrat continue to do better in opinion polls than the party of Prime Minister Petr Nečas, the Civic Democrats (ODS), and the two junior partners in the ruling coalition: TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV).
“I do not expect any deviation from the policy of populism in the CSSD under the new chairman,” Nečas wrote in a press release in which he first congratulated Sobotka on his victory. “In spite of this, I am prepared to patiently negotiate with the democratic opposition about the prepared reforms and other steps that the government coalition plans.”