Czech left leader gains ground in post-election party row

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 29, 2013 2:09 PM
Czech left leader gains ground in post-election party row

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka gained ground on Tuesday against rivals trying to depose him as party chief and candidate for prime minister, after an unconvincing election win last weekend.

The split in the center-left party has crippled attempts to start talks on forming a government between the Social Democrats and two centrist parties, the new anti-corruption movement ANO and the Christian Democrats.

The Social Democrats won the election with 20.5 percent of the vote, much less than 30 percent the party had hoped for.

The Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats together won 111 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament as voters punished established parties of both right and left for corruption scandals in the past years.

Sobotka's rivals in a party leadership body voted on Sunday to remove him from the team negotiating the new government and called on him to resign as party chief to take responsibility for the poor election result.

He has refused to budge and on Tuesday the party's lawmakers voted to return him to the negotiating team.

"We wanted to unblock the situation," said Michal Hasek, deputy party chief and Sobotka's main opponent.

"I expect that now the party will be ready for post-election talks."

It was not clear if the rebellion was over.

Sobotka said he would call a session of the powerful 190-strong central committee, the highest party body other than a congress, for November 10 to settle scores after what he called an attempted coup.

"This meeting will decide the party's future and what kind of politics it will stand for, a democratic and autonomous one, or if it becomes a service organization of behind-the-scenes players," he said.

Sobotka has won cautious backing from ANO, a potential government partner.

"We will negotiate with the legitimate chairman," Vera Jourova, deputy leader of ANO, said on Czech Television.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; editing by Andrew Roche)