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Interview: Czech leaders look to upcoming elections

Parties jockey for support after the collapse of government.

“It is a kind of historical paradox because the Social Democrats never wanted the Czech Republic to become a member of NATO, and I think the EU membership is the same story,” he said.

The real contradiction is between the ODS and its voters, said Jan Hartl, who heads one of the country's top polling agencies, STEM.

“ODS voters are clearly pro-EU, and it's one of the long-lasting paradoxes in our political scene,” he said. “The ODS electorate is far more in favor of the EU, but the representatives of the ODS are more Euroskeptical.”

The Social Democrat's Paroubek points out that it is the ODS that is holding up the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Of the EU's 27 member nations, only the Czech Republic and Ireland have yet to ratify the treaty, which aims to increase EU efficiency.

“All of the Social Democratic MPs in the lower house already voted in favor, and without the Social Democratic support, the Lisbon Treaty would not have been passed by the lower House of Parliament,” he said. “We're going to do the same on the Czech senate on May 6 and I assume we'll be supported by centrist parties and some in the ODS.”

Just how much support the treaty will get from ODS parliamentarians remains an open question, leaving the treaty hanging in the balance.

“The support to the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty is a necessity that we have realized, but (there) is no enthusiasm,” Topolanek said, hardly sounding like a political leader who is committed to the EU.

Topolanek said he was only 75 percent certain the measure would pass. If the Senate fails to ratify the treaty because of the ODS senators, the party will have an even more difficult task — it is currently facing a 3 to 4 percent deficit in public opinion polls — in the elections.

If elections go ahead as planned in October, they will come nearly 20 years after the collapse of communism.

“The extraordinary election is going to take place on the eve of the Velvet Revolution,” Topolanek said. “So that's something which brings into the game a kind of special dimension. It is going to show whether the society, 20 years since the revolution, is a more pro-western or pro-eastern oriented.”

But this attempt to link the Social Democrats — whom he purposely referred to as “the socialists” throughout the interview — with the country's communist past is dubious, said Hartl, the polling expert.

“ODS playing the anti-communist card has been tried before with limited success,” he said. “It's not a very strong position.”

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