Prague - A number of top officials of the senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS) have indicated the party needs a new leader after the opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD) took another landslide victory in the second round of Senate by-elections on Saturday.
ČSSD candidates were victorious in 23 of the 27 constituencies that were choosing their senator for the next six years. This has boosted the party's presence in the 80-member upper house from 12 to 29 seats.
The ODS has lost its Senate majority and is left with 35 seats after winning only three constituencies, all of them in Prague. A Communist (KSČM) candidate has won Znojmo and the party now has three senators.
A week earlier the ČSSD defeated the ODS-led governing coalition in all 13 regional elections.
Looking for a change
"An orange socialist bomb has exploded above the Czech Republic, and the only blue place left on the map is Prague," said Pavel Bém, Prague mayor and ODS's second in charge, after the votes were counted. He said PM Mirek Topolánek should resign as ODS chairman.
Bém is seen as Topolánek's main critic inside the ODS. He and his closest ally, outgoing Central Bohemia governor and ODS deputy chairman Petr Bendl, have repeatedly indicated one of them might run against Topolánek for chairmanship at a party conference in December.
Senate speaker Přemysl Sobotka (ODS) said in an interview for Aktuálně.cz that Topolánek had the largest responsibility for the election defeat. "I think after this debacle we will have to think about a different party chairman," he said, adding that the party leadership needs a "dramatic change".
Another senior ODS official to point a finger at Topolánek was President Václav Klaus, the party's founder and honorary chairman. "These elections were a referendum about Mirek Topolánek," he told TV Prima on Sunday.
The premier himself said shortly after the results were announced that he would "have to decide whether I will run again for chairmanship at the [party] conference".
On Sunday Topolánek added he might even support the election of a new party leader provided this preserved the party's unity and helped it further its policy in cooperation with the current coalition partners.
Meanwhile, ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek said that Topolánek's government should resign after the two election defeats and that early general elections could be held in June next year, simultaneously with the European Parliament elections.