Czech Republic: The Rise of the Social Democrats

THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL Democrats began early this year, coinciding with a series of troublesome problems for the government. Within the first six months of 1995, voter preferences for the Social Democrats, as recorded in opinion polls, rose by more than 50 percent, bringing them to just five percentage points behind Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in June. In January, the gap had been 13 points. Klaus had at that time outlined his government’s main priorities for the year, which included creating new social policies that were needed because the Czech Republic had moved into a “post-transformation” phase when it had completed most major economic reforms. However, pensions, health-service reform, education, and labor policy quickly proved to be thorny issues, creating dissension not only between the government and opposition but also among the four parties of the governing coalition.1 Many have expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s proposed social policies: doctors, nurses, teachers, and railway workers all threatened to strike if their wage demands were not met and their complaints about inadequate working conditions were not heeded. A planned railway workers’ strike in June was called off at the last minute after the government conceded to most of the rail unions’ demands.