>Czech Social Democrats warn of reform shock

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The Czech Social Democrats have built on the success of their hard-hitting, negative 2006 parliamentary election campaign – which saw them return from the political dead to run the right very close – with some equally tough advertising in the run-up to this year’s Czech regional elections. The theme, that old but always effective chestnut, that the government is clobbering grandmothers, chidren and the socially vulnerable. The stress focus is on new charges brought in for visiting the doctor (actually rather symbolic), higher charges for prescriptions and the cutting back of universal child benefits. The slogan ODSouzení k reformě! means Condemned to Reform, but is a play on the words stressing the misdeeds of governing Civic Democrats (ODS). It worked in 2006 and a very similar campaign enable Poland’s Catholic-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) to overhaul the liberal Civic Platform in 2005 – before handing them a landslide in 2007 by running a thoroughly maladroit government with some distinctly dodgy junior coalition partners. The Czech regions, which run hospitals and secondary education, are currently dominated by the right, which has always tended to do better in regional elections, possibly as the Social Democrats don’t have the same level of organizational implantation locally, or the same numbers of loyal voters willing to turn out for less important ‘second order’ elections. They currently lead in the national polls, however, and have gone negative early, so don’t bet against them.
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