Czech Republic: "Dawn of Direct Democracy" movement splinters
Several Czech MPs and the executive of the "Dawn of Direct Democracy" (Úsvit) movement have agreed to establish a new political party. They want a new platform to be created for the defense of Czech national interests that will collaborate with the French ultra-right Front National, among others.
Úsvit representatives announced their decision at a press conference yesterday. Reportedly 10 of 12 MPs present for a ballot on the issue voted in favor of the resolution.
Tomio Okamura, who was previously the boss of the movement, said he understands the MPs' efforts as an attempt to take over the party and destroy it. "The MPs' club of the Úsvit movement is entrusting independent deputies and the club apparatus with establishing a new political party that will co-opt deputies from the Úsvit and Věcí veřejných (Public Affairs) movements into its political organs," said the vice-chair of the Úsvit group in the lower house, Petr Adam.
Adam said the ideological basis of the new party should be a non-populist, positive defense of Czech national interests. The establishment of the new political party was supported by the movement's executive, according to Marek Černoch, the chair of the Úsvit group in the lower house.
Černoch became the head of the group in the lower house in January when, against Okamura's will, he was chosen to replace then-boss Radim Fiala. Černoch has rejected allegations that his promotion was an anti-Okamura putsch.
Mr Okamura is welcome to become a member of the new party, according to Černoch. One of the main reasons for establishing a new party, he said, is that the Úsvit movement cannot accept new members for the time being because of its structure.
The new party, in Černoch's view, will function according to standard democratic principles. He believes no party can function without a membership base.
The Úsvit movement has been repeatedly weakened by internal disputes. Some of its 14 MPs sharply criticized Fiala in January and then removed him from his post.
They were bothered by what they alleged were his too-friendly, too-informal relationships with representatives of other parties and claimed that he collaborated too closely with the Citizens' Rights Party and with Czech President Miloš Zeman.
They also criticized his allegedly deficient teamwork and claimed he had refused to take a clearer stance against Okamura serving as party chair, for example, on the questions of Okamura's remarks about the former concentration camp at Lety or the "Islamization" of Europe. MPs from the party recently directly reprimanded Okamura, who has long seemed to be the clear leader of the movement and whose very name was once officially included in the party's title, over his sharing online of calls to harass Muslims in the Czech Republic by, for example, "taking pigs for a walk" to relieve themselves near mosques.
Okamura: The MPs are trying to take over the movement and destroy it
This effort by Úsvit MPs to establish a new party now is understood by Okamura as an attempt to take his movement over and then destroy it. He said as much yesterday at the press conference.
Okamura said he will convene his own members' conference to vote on the future of the party. He said he had not received an invitation to join the new party, which most of the members of the Úsvit legislators' club want to create, and said he is not planning to join it.
"I understand this entire process to be a completely clear attempt to take over the Úsvit leadership and destroy the party," Okamura said at the press conference. " I personally disagree with this plan to abolish the Úsvit movement, and I also disagree with the abrogation of the program on which we were all elected to the Chamber of Deputies."
The recently-fired chair of the movement's club in the lower house, Radim Fiala, who did not support his colleagues' activities, said their behavior is short-sighted and reminded them that they had only been elected to the Chamber of Deputies because of Okamura. He also condemned the fact that the decision to create a new party took place behind the back of the party chair.
The new group is theoretically open to anyone interested in joining, including Okamura. He says he will not be joining it.
"I am not a turncoat. I do not plan to work anywhere but in the Úsvit movement," Okamura said.
The Úsvit chair claims to have never received an invitation to join the new party. He considers the explanation by its initiators that they want to create an open party, which in their view Úsvit is not, to be a mere pretext and claimed that he himself has been planning to create an umbrella platform around the party that could involve other people.
Political scientists say a new party will be weak without Okamura
Political scientists say a newly-created party around the Úsvit movement's MPs does not have any real chance of significantly scoring points with the public. Since they have decided to separate from their leader, they will lose their main attraction for voters.
There is no other such figure in their ranks, and a program based on the positive defense of national interests will not be enough to keep them viable, experts agree. The opposition movement has been based on Okamura's celebrity, and without him the new group's chances are very low, Miroslav Mareš of the Social Studies Department of Masaryk University in Brno told the Czech News Agency yesterday.
Mareš says he believes this has been proven by examples of similarly oriented parties in the past; for example, the splintering of several Republicans away from Miroslav Sládek's party several years ago ended in fiasco. Political scientist Jan Outlý also says that according to sociological data it is evident that Úsvit's voters significantly identify with Okamura, not with the party or its program.
"They are losing their face, their icon, and they don't have anyone as well-known to replace him," Outlý says. Mareš also says that Úsvit differs from other parties in its very atypical structure - it has a central leadership with a dominant leader instead of local organizations, and after two years of existence has only attracted a few members; it also has special ties to the club of MPs that includes unaffiliated MPs and Public Affairs members.
The decision of the Úsvit deputies is very risky, Mareš believes. While Okamura has the hope of maintaining his influence on the political scene even after this intra-party rupture, the prospects for the newly-created initiative are essentially worse, Outlý says.
Head of the SocDems club says Úsvit events remind him of Public Affairs
The events in the Úsvit deputies' club remind Roman Sklenák, the head of the Czech Social Democratic Party's (ČSSD) club in the lower house, of the situation in the Public Affairs party. Neither the opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) nor the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) were surprised by this fracturing of Úsvit.
The Communists, however, are against new parties being created in the lower house that have not actually won elections, Czech MP Stanislav Grospič told the Czech News Agency. "This strongly reminds me of the previous electoral period and the situation in the Public Affairs club. I believe that what has gone on in those two clubs is something very similar," Sklenák commented.
"I am not surprised that some of these new movements, which were created for a specific purpose, have a problem maintaining their identity and that the people in them are seeking an alternative political path," said ODS chair Petr Fiala. Contradictions within the Úsvit faction were observable earlier, according to Grospič, who labeled the matter an internal affair of Okamura's movement before saying that "In future we should answer this question through loss of seats or a similar mechanism so that new political parties are not created here in the Chamber of Deputies that never ran candidates in any elections."
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