The Czech Social Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in the Czech Republic, will elect its new chairman on the weekend of March 18-20. The election is important because, according to opinion polls, the opposition party is enjoying high popular support, so there is a significant possibility that the party's new leader will eventually become a new PM of the Czech Republic in case the center-right wing government of PM Petr Nečas does not complete its full electoral term.
Six hundred Social Democratic delegates will choose between acting chairman Bohuslav Sobotka and his rival Michal Hašek.
According to Bohuslav Sobotka, the Social Democracy should turn "greener" and try to attract young people and the middle class. It should fight against corruption and cannot accept the privatization of the pension system, elimination of the labor code, and emergence of two separate health care systems, one for the rich and the other for the poor.
Sobotka believes that young people could be attracted to the party by a policy of "equal opportunities" for the pursuit of individual success, with an emphasis on freedom, human rights, and environmental protection.
Calm but uncharismatic
In 2002, at the age of 31, he became a finance minister in the government of Vladimír Špidla, who was then the chairman of the party. In 2003, Sobotka even became a deputy PM. In an interview with Aktualne.cz, Špidla explained that Sobotka "had one important ability - to think with a cool head even when under strong pressure." "He was exemplary," Špidla added.
He remained the finance minister even under the following Social Democratic prime ministers, Stanislav Gross and Jiří Paroubek.
"I know him as the party's number two, or number three. He has always been a man loyal to his Prime Minister, he was not one of those who voice different opinions," said Cyril Svoboda from the Christian Democrats, Sobotka's colleague from the social democratic governments. "He is a man who keeps his word," Svoboda added.
However, there is almost a universal agreement that Sobotka lacks political charisma and leadership qualities. Some say, in addition, that he is a poor negotiator.
Recently, Sobotka and prominent Czech left-wing intellectuals Václav Bělohradský and Jiří Pehe founded a left-leaning think-tank called Cesta.
Bohuslav Sobotka, the curret acting chairman of the party, will turn 40 this year and has two children. Sobotka is a career politician - he has already served as a member of the lower chamber of the parliament, a minister, and a deputy PM.
Sobotka started his career in the Social Democracy in the early 1990s, when the party's popularity was deeply under the five percent electoral benchmark. He was known for being devoted, hardworking, but somehow irresolute.