Following the Social Democratic Party’s defeat in October’s Senate and regional elections and dismal results in recent opinion polls, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has gone on the offensive, announcing a shake-up both within the party and inside the government. But, given the country’s good economic results and the government’s generous social handouts, why is the party doing so badly?
“It is quite a surprising situation. Normally, a year before the elections, it is the cabinet that has a problem, but here the cabinet is quite popular and the profit is going to the second strongest party in the government [ANO] that does not have a prime minister. And neither is the opposition getting more points. So the important question is how to rebrand the party, what strategy is to be used and one of the basic strategies normally used is to make some changes, to show that there is continuity and, at the same time, that there is change. That is a perfectly normal strategy a year before elections if the party has a problem and it is clear that the Social Democrats really do have a problem.”
So who are party’s main rivals ahead of the elections?
“Surprising as it may be, it is not the opposition. The opposition is extremely weak and the main rival is inside the coalition, the party that is taking all the advantages, all the merit from the fact that the economy is growing, that there is no strong social tension, that the cabinet is rather popular - it is ANO that is getting all the support and the results of the last opinion polls are really strong [TNS Aisa poll: ANO 34 percent support, Social Democrats 15 percent support] and quite surprising. We shall see if this trend lasts, but at this point we can say that ANO is really gaining –we can be sure of that -and the Social Democrats are losing.”
So is there a problem with communication?
“Partly it is that, but it is not a question of how often you communicate or how many tweets you put out. The main problem is how to communicate, what results to communicate and it seems that ANO has been able to sell most of the good things that were done by the cabinet and the Social Democrats have not been able to do that. So it is a question of what to stress, how to work with the facts and also the question whether to be more offensive. The risk here is that to be more offensive sometimes makes more trouble within the cabinet and the cabinet is also popular because –although there are many conflicts - they are not ventilated in the media so much. People are tired of hearing about problems and disputes between ministers –so it is necessary to develop a strategy that would be able to show the Social Democrats as a party that is the driving force behind the positive things done by the cabinet –which people see – and at the same time not to unleash deep conflicts and not to provoke early elections.”
Is the prime minister fighting for his own political future here?
“To change the prime minister and head of the party now - a year before parliamentary elections- would be nonsense. But it is clear that if the Social Democrats do not do well in the next elections it would be the end of his political career. But it is also important to think about the character of the political party – because the conflicts and the problems go deeper than one person. So you can work on rebranding, but at the same time it is important to get an in-depth analysis of what is happening inside the party. ”