Czech coalition talks in disarray after rift in main party
Social Democrats leader Bohuslav Sobotka accuses deputy of attempting a party ‘coup’ at behest of Czech president
Czech Social Democrats leader Bohuslav Sobotka arrives at a protest rally held by his supporters in front of Prague Castle on Monday. The Social Democrats’ leadership body voted 20-13 to call on Mr Sobotka to quit, but he has vowed to fight on. Photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters
The Czech Republic’s search for a new government has been thrown into confusion, after the party that won last weekend’s parliamentary election suffered a split between deputies loyal to its erstwhile leader and a faction allegedly controlled by the country’s president.
The leftist Social Democrats won the ballot, but the 20.5 per cent of votes they received represented their worst return in 20 years and gave them only three more seats in parliament than the centrist Ano party that was competing in its first election.
After the election, the Social Democrats’ leadership council voted by 20-13 to ask embattled leader Bohuslav Sobotka to resign, and sought to throw him off a team that was to negotiate the terms of a new coalition government. But the vote was non-binding, and Mr Sobotka refused to step down or relinquish his negotiating role.
He accused his deputy, Michal Hasek, of attempting a party “coup” at the behest of Czech president Milos Zeman, a longtime critic of Mr Sobotka, who publicly suggested that he should resign due to the slender nature of the Social Democrats’ election victory.
It is Mr Zeman – a former chairman of the Social Democrats – who will nominate a candidate for premier and ask him to form a new cabinet, which must be approved by parliament. Mr Zeman has said he will make his nomination in about a month.
“I will not resign because I want to keep defending values that I believe in . . . Among them is an independent Social Democratic Party, ” said Mr Sobotka, warning the party not to fall under the indirect influence of Mr Zeman by supporting Mr Hasek’s faction.
Mr Sobotka also insisted he was ready to lead talks with Ano and the Christian Democrats on forming a coalition government that would have 111 of the 200 seats in parliament.
Mr Hasek said he would lead the negotiations, however: “Voters do not need to worry for a second about the mandate they gave the Social Democrats; our promises and commitments remain in place.”
Andrej Babis, the leader of Ano, said he was “shocked by what is happening in the Social Democrats . . . This party, the election winner, is destabilising the political situation.”
The Christian Democrats were also baffled. “The situation within the Social Democrats is completely unclear at the moment,” said party spokesman Daniel Herman.