Czechs set up new conservative party, eye Oct vote

Two senior ministers in the last Czech cabinet launched a new conservative party on Thursday, aiming to pick up unattached voters to strengthen the right ahead of an election in October.

If the new party clears the five percent hurdle necessary to win parliamentary seats, it would help push the overall balance of the assembly to the right.

The central European country has been embroiled in a finely balanced struggle between left- and right-wing forces in the ru-up to an election called after the fall of a centre-right cabinet in March.

The new party — called TOP 09 standing for tradition, responsibility and prosperity — will be chaired by 71-year-old Karel Schwarzenberg, a charismatic pipe-puffing aristocrat whose straight talking as foreign minister from 2007 to 2009 made him one of the country’s most popular politicians.

But the driving force of the party is Miroslav Kalousek, finance minister in the former cabinet, a political veteran who has won credit for his handling of the state coffers but whose popularity has been tainted by close links with businessmen.

The party’s manifesto focuses on fiscal restraint and a pledge ‘not to raise the public debt and not to burden the future with unbearable interest costs’.

‘We do not want to be popular at all costs,’ said Kalousek. ‘Not all solutions are painless.’

The leftist Social Democrats have spoken in favour of tax rises for top earners and companies, higher social spending, and allowing somewhat bigger budget deficits than the 5 percent of gross domestic product planned by the current interim cabinet.

Kalousek was chairman of the centrist Christian Democrats, but left the party after more left-leaning forces took over its leadership last month.

Kalousek is a close ally of former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, head of the right-wing Civic Democrats, the new party’s most natural coalition partner after the election.

The Civic Democrats won 31.5 percent of the vote in the European Parliament election last week, beating the main leftist party, the Social Democrats, by nine percentage points.

But the Social Democrats and the far-left Communists together won exactly the same number of seats as the Civic and Christian Democrats combined, leaving the October election an open race.

Political analyst Pavel Saradin said conservatism did not have much backing in the Czech Republic and the new party needed to widen its appeal to lure centrist voters, which TOP 09 wants to do by joining forces with a coalition of municipal leaders.

‘At the moment it is 50-50, the chance that the party will succeed of course exists,’ said Saradin, of Palacky University.


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