Poll: support for Social Democrats at its lowest since 1992

19-04-2005

A new poll released by the Stem agency has shown voter support for the ruling Social Democratic Party has dropped to its lowest since 1992. The party with the most seats in parliament now barely registers 12 percent, a significant change in mood from just three years ago.

The Social Democrats were in trouble even before the latest government crisis - long-term surveys suggested a continuing downward spiral in voter preference since at least 2003. The latest poll now shows the Social Democratic Party dropping to its worst position in thirteen years - certainly not anything for anyone in the party to cheer about. Way back then, the Social Democrats were just coming out of obscurity and their brightest days lay ahead.

Erazim Kohak, a professor at Charles University and a Social Democrat himself, told me members of the party should be concerned indeed:

"They should be exceedingly worried, though I would divide it: in the long-term I don't think they need to worry because I think they have a programme which is viable where others are not. But, in the short-range I think they have some very serious problems within the party itself. That it is quarrelsome, that there is so much personal conflict. We have to form a clear idea of what Social Democracy means in this very different age. We still use models and phrases from the 1960s and 70s, and that was a different time."

If the Social Democrats have reached a point where they need to reinvent themselves, they haven't got much time, having to decide fairly shortly whether to move further left or more to the centre. That decision will largely be reflected in how the party ultimately deals with the government crisis. Essentially, two options remain: either to try and renew the centre-left coalition or to push for a new minority government propped up by the Communist Party. Neither is really a satisfactory option in Erazim Kohak's view:

"I don't believe either of them is a particularly good solution, it seems to me that what we need now is several years as an opposition party, where we can straighten ourselves out."

A final question is just who would be in charge of such a process. I asked Erazim Kohak if he would welcome someone else replacing current Social Democrat leader Stanislav Gross.

"This is not a criticism of Gross - I think he is a clever politician but a much less clever manager of his personal finances. But, I think, yes, there is a need for a new charismatic leader. Someone who would have the charisma of [earlier chairman] Milos Zeman and the wisdom of [Vladimir] Spidla."

19-04-2005