Thursday, 17 April 2014

Zeman as president could cause ČSSD to split

14 January 2013

Prague, Jan 13 (CTK) - Some political analysts addressed by CTK say a possible election of Milos Zeman (Citizens' Rights Party, SPOZ) as Czech president could lead to the split of the senior opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which Zeman chaired in the past and in which he still has a number of allies.

The victory of Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who will clash with Zeman in the second round of the presidential race later this month, would strengthen the position of Schwarzenberg's TOP 09 party as a junior partner in the right-wing government coalition, the analysts said.

They said the debacle of Premysl Sobotka, candidate of the senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS), in the January 11-12 first round of the first ever direct presidential polls is a memento for the ODS.

"The ODS is ripe for being written off unless it pulls together," political analyst Tomas Jarmara said.

Zeman narrowly won the first election round with 24.21 percent of the vote, followed by Schwarzenberg with 23.40 percent. They have advanced to the second round, while the race ended for the remaining seven candidates.

Premysl Sobotka finished last but one, gaining some 2.5 percent of the vote.

Already on Saturday, most analysts said both Zeman and Schwarzenberg have a chance to win the second round.

Analyst Vladimira Dvorakova said it will depend on which of the two candidates will "force" a higher number of his potential voters to cast their ballots.

She said Schwarzenberg might win support of most voters of Jan Fischer, former PM and the strongest of the unsuccessful candidates, while Zeman cannot be sure of being supported by most voters of senator Jiri Dienstbier, the CSSD's unsuccessful candidate who ended fourth in the first round.

Jarmara said Schwarzenberg may be backed by the "media mainstream" and many voters may view him as "the lesser evil," compared with Zeman.

The decision of CSSD voters will be crucial, he said.

Similarly, analyst Jan Outly said people perceive Schwarzenberg as a candidate who is not strongly tied with the government parties. Zeman divides the society more sharply and his potential in the second round is lower than Schwarzenberg's, Outly said.

According to Jarmara, Zeman's victory would mean "a crisis scenario" for the CSSD.

Zeman, who was CSSD chairman in 1993-2001 and prime minister in 1998-2002, fell out with the party and left it in 2007, also due to the election of a new president by parliament in 2003, in which he failed because some lawmakers for the CSSD, then senior ruling party, did not support him in the secret vote.

Zeman branded them traitors and his relations with some CSSD officials have been tense since. At the same time, he has a number of fans in the CSSD.

Jarmara recalled that the CSSD's present leadership includes people whom Zeman has strongly criticised.

True, the CSSD leadership on Saturday recommended that the CSSD voters support Zeman for president in the second round, but some of the leaders made "sour faces" when saying it, Jarmara said.

They found themselves in a deadlock because they could not back Schwarzenberg, a member of the cabinet which the CSSD seeks to topple, but they do not want Zeman for president either, Jarmara said.

"They know it could have the same effect [on the CSSD] that [former ODS chairman] Vaclav Klaus had when he caused the ODS's split [after becoming president]," Jarmara said.

Dvorakova, too, said Zeman as president could be an analogy of the controversial relation between the ODS and Klaus.

Zeman could become a player influencing developments in the CSSD, which is why some CSSD leaders rightfully fear his "disintegrating effect," Dvorakova said.

According to analyst Bohumil Dolezal, Zeman's election victory would mean a "St Bartholomew's Day Massacre" or an outbreak of merciless internal fight in the CSSD, as "this corresponds to Mr.Zeman's nature somehow."

Dolezal said the CSSD's fresh resolution in support of Zeman is a display of "horrible helplessness" when some CSSD leaders back Zeman while others would like to follow the example of the party's unsuccessful candidate Jiri Dienstbier and support no one ahead of the second round.

"The party is split," Dolezal added.

Jarmara said the election of Schwarzenberg would strengthen TOP 09 and facilitate its steps as a government party. As president, Schwarzenberg would not veto the government's bills as often as the outgoing President Vaclav Klaus has done, Jarmara said.

Dvorakova said Schwarzenberg as president could be influenced by other people in many areas because it is only foreign affairs he is interested in.

To have a chance against Zeman, Schwarzenberg must present himself as a man of consensus, as he needs support of some CSSD voters as well as voters of the arch-rival right-wing ODS, the other mainstream party, Dolezal said.

Dolezal and Jarmara agreed that the ODS should react to the election debacle of its candidate Premysl Sobotka.

Jarmara said the ODS fatally contributed to Sobotka's fiasco by not distancing itself enough from the controversial amnesty which President Klaus declared on New Year.

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