>Exit Topolánek followed by a geek?

>So in the end, Czech Civic Democrat leader Miroslav Topolánek met the same fate as the hands of his more illustrious predecessor Václav Klaus – booted out by regions for electoral failure. Only this being Topolánek it more clumsy, disasterous and bathetic than the elegant failures and climdowns that mark the lower points of Mr Klaus’s career. While Klaus has the good sense to read the runes and step down in 2002, the maladroit Topolánek suffered the indignity of a massive vote against him in the ODS executive summarily removing him from the top of the party’s South Moravian list and role as the party’s national ‘electoral leader’ for the campaign. And, of course, Topolánek has been ousted weeks before an election not weeks after one – an impressive act of collective political courage (or desperation) by ODS intended to stem the party’s slide in the polls and loss of support to small new pro-reform parties.

The last straw seems to have been one of Topolánek’s characteristic foot-in-mouth remarks referring the Jewish background of caretaker Prime Minister Fischer – ironically the remarks were made in an interview with Lui magazine for gay men in a fumbling, bumbling effort to emphasize how unprejudiced he was: reading the transcript it might just be the case that Topolánek is talking hypothetical remarks about the lack of resolve and toughness of members of the current caretaker government (one of whom is openly gay – a rarity in Czech politics) and how it’s really just a matter of personality (‘…Fischer. He’s not gay, he’s simply Jewish and he backs off. It’s character’) . However, a (more out of context) video of the remarks suggests that he is straightfowardly linking lack blokish political determination is a consequence of Jewishness or homosexuality.

What ever the truth of, it’s appearances that count in politics. – and frankly what kind of an idiot politically would launch into any kind of off-the-cuff remarks about the Jewish background. Well, Topolánek that’s who.

It now seems a matter of time before Topolánek formally steps down as leader and disappears into the political shadows. His replacement as ‘electoral leader’ is Petr Necas, one time Labour and Social Affairs Minister, spokesman for intellectually minded social conservative sin ODS and leadership contender in 2002 (when he was endorsed by Vaclav Klaus and lost out in a narrow three-way contest). Necas is experienced, respectable and a safe pair of hands – certainly not the kind of person likely to be caught with penis on public display on Silvio Berlusconi’s poolside – and known for his dull worthiness. Leadership rival Jan Zahradil bluntly termed him a nerd (suchar) – or perhap ‘geek’ is a better translation – in 2002.

Such anti-charisma is being plugged by some Czech political pundits as likely to blunt the electoral attacks of both like TOP09 alternative right-wing parties and the Social Democrats both of whom were to some extent running against Topolánek, although the Social Democrats’ big welfare/big stimulus message seems likely to play well whoever leads ODS and I personally am sceptical that a bet on John Major-like dullness will pay off, a fact Necas himself seems to have grasped by trying to show his macho side, telling us that sometimes he does lose his temper and threatening to pull ODS nominated ministers out of the caretaker technocrat government in last few pre-election weeks.

A political obituary for Topolánek? He’s the man who held ODS post-Klaus, defined belatedly and for a more pragmatic, ecologically-minded realistic pro-market centre-right politics in the CR; and saw off Klaus and got the Lisbon Treaty ratified by the Czech parliament. A more substantive and interesting political figure than the gaffes, vulgar slips, lack of media polish, messy personal life for which he is likely to be remember. His greatest political failure was not to be an electoral winner in 2006, not to hold his minority government together in the spotlight of the EU Presidency. The greatest bit of bad luck of this famously lucky politican was the postponement of the scheduled early election of 2009 by the Czech Constitutional Court. After this Topolánek’s judgement and taste for politics seem to have deserted him, until he was mowed down by his own party.

You wonder, however, if any leader of ODS can ever really win an election in a meaningful sense ever again. After all every Czech elections since 1996 has seen the Social Democrats do better than expected, either by winning or do better than expected in defeat. Why should 2010 be any different?

And what one wonder would electoral defeat presage for the now very diverse Czech centre-right?

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