Remaining Loyal to Klaus
Last but one weekend in Poděbrady, mayors elected for ODS met to discuss recent party events and future plans. Evaluating their losses in the recent party split, those in attendance were mainly positive and with good reason. Only about one ODS mayor in ten has left the mother party in the past turbulent months. Additionally, only about 15%-18% of the party membership has abandoned ODS. From ODS's standpoint, the numbers look pretty good.
Admittedly, these are figures provided by ODS itself and therefore must be treated with some scepticism, but the figures are not unreasonable considering recent events. In fact, they show what many have known for some time: ODS is relatively well developed at the grass-roots.
ODS has developed strong regional and communal structures over the past seven years. Local politicians for ODS have cultivated links with local entrepreneurs, for example, in many towns across the Republic. These influential people have used their influence at the local level to help bring in the vote for ODS and to maintain the dominance of the party in many communities.
The only other party in recent history to have established a local political network as extensive as ODS enjoys was the Communist Party. Some may see this comparison as none too flattering, but the fact of the matter is that a well-developed network of local relationships is vital to all party political systems. ODS realised this early, and that was not only the key to its many years of success but is also the key to its continued survival.
Recent events speak for themselves. A great party split has occurred, and big names in the party leadership turned on their former leader. Yet the mayors remain loyal to Klaus as the head of the old ODS network, and many in the local party membership follow suit.
None of this justifies the corruption that these networks tolerated and created, nor does it justify the official policy of ODS when it was in office. I am not talking about what they did with their power but about the way they went about attaining and maintaining that power. Other considerations aside, ODS was certainly clever about that one thing: they knew that the regions and communes matter for a party.
Of course, ODS paid more attention to its regional and communal party faithful than they ever did as a party in office to the regions and communes themselves. Like the Communist Party some years before it, ODS was incredibly centralising in its approach to government structures, but at the same time, it was very attentive to regional and communal structures of the party and their development.
The fact that US is now polling higher than ODS at the national level is certainly important, but it hides the important fact that Klaus' ODS still retains strong support at the party's regional and communal level. Indeed, it shows once again the key weakness of US and other parties: a lack of grass-roots support. That grass-roots support, which after all saved Klaus from ultimate defeat and complete ignominy, provides a lesson for other parties.