Thursday, 24 April 2014

LN: Voters back Schwarzenberg despite his ties to TOP 09

16 January 2013

Prague, Jan 15 (CTK) - Czechs are fed up with the present cabinet but still many of them backed Karel Schwarzenberg in the presidential polls because he is a popular, non-conflict and widely acceptable person, apart from being a minister and head of the unpopular TOP 09, Lenka Zlamalova says in Lidove noviny.

She reacts to the weekend first round of the direct presidential election from which Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg advanced to the second round along with former socialist prime minister Milos Zeman.

Schwarzenberg was evidently also backed by many supporters of the right-wing senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS) who came to the conclusion, based on public opinion polls' results, that the ODS's official candidate, Senate deputy head Premysl Sobotka, is unlikely to succeed in the first round, Zlamalova writes.

Although these voters identified themselves with Sobotka's opinions and are no fans of Schwarzenberg, they did not want to waste their votes and decided to support someone who had a chance to advance and whom they mind the least of the rest of candidates, Zlamalova writes.

In the last days before the first round, various groups intensified their efforts at ousting former interim prime minister Jan Fischer, from the run-off. As a result, voters' support shifted to candidates who had a chance to beat Fischer. For ODS voters, such a candidate was Schwarzenberg.

They viewed Schwarzenberg as the least evil, someone who would prevent the long-expected Zeman-Fischer run-off duel, which they did not wish, Zlamalova continues.

Some media decided in the same way, she says.

An ODS candidate could have succeeded if he/she, like Schwarzenberg, had been a popular non-conflict personality and capable of addressing broad electorate. This role of a widely acceptable candidate, however, could have hardly been played by any of the ODS's present leaders, Zlamalova points out.

The polls confirmed that the ODS is losing political instinct and a sense for atmosphere in society. From the very beginning it was clear that the direct election, the first in the country's history, will be a "folk entertainment" event and a battle of popular personalities. Zeman, Fischer and Schwarzenberg all are popular personalities, Zlamalova writes.

Although it was evident that people are fed up with the policy pursued by parties, mainly the government ones, the ODS fielded Sobotka as their candidate. Sobotka is a decent and competent politician with opinions acceptable for centrist voters. However, he is no picturesque figure that could score points in this type of the election campaign, Zlamalova writes.

His defeat in the first round, in which he finished last but one of nine contenders, is a failure of the ODS, which nominated him, rather than of himself, Zlamalova writes.

The ODS brand and everything associated with it, such as price rises, cronyism and the controversial amnesty declared by President Vaclav Klaus, former ODS chairman, have harmed the candidacy of Sobotka, who is not as popular a personality as to overshadow this unflattering brand, Zlamalova writes.

Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg, too, is a government politician. He even heads TOP 09, a junior ruling party that pushed most of all for tax increases, welfare and budget cuts and church restitutions, that "supplied" a confused culture minister, initiated irritating checks of businesses and made dubious deals at the Labour Ministry, Zlamalova writes.

TOP 09 is actually responsible for most of what people mind about the government's steps, she points out.

However, Schwarzenberg is quite the opposite of Sobotka. He is a special brand himself or a social phenomenon now "parked" in TOP 09. His popularity exceeds that of TOP 09. It can even be said that it is Schwarzenberg, plus a few popular mayors and possibly also Health Minister Leos Heger, who make TOP 09 attractive for a part of voters, Zlamalova writes.

Schwarzenberg has been presented as a man with firm opinions, which is rather a hackneyed phrase. He can be described as a politician espousing a broad spectrum of views, Zlamalova says.

During his political career, Schwarzenberg has "managed" to gradually ally with the conservative [now defunct] Civic Democratic Alliance, the liberal [now defunct] Freedom Union and with the progress-seeking Greens [before joining TOP 09 and accepting the post of its chairman in 2009], Zlamalova writes.

Schwarzenberg, who presents himself as a genuine conservative, for the first time joined the government in 2007 as a nominee of the Greens, a party whose ambition is to eradicate conservative prejudices, Zlamalova writes.

Schwarzenberg's core of supporters are town liberals who long, in vain, for the arrival of a modern leftist star with a style similar to Barack Obama's, Zlamalova writes.

Now that the election campaign is underway, TOP 09 chairman Schwarzenberg is even pragmatically playing a fan of the left as he is sure of all right and centre-right voters' support, Zlamalova writes.

Paradoxically, his election as president may be a chance for the ODS's revival. Without Schwarzenberg, the abandoned TOP 09 will experience hard times, unless Miroslav Kalousek [Finance Minister and TOP 09 mastermind and first deputy chairman] finds another "icon" to replace Schwarzenberg in the party, Zlamalova writes.

As a result, the competition will be easier on the right part of the political spectrum, she says.

Unfortunately, the ODS, including its head Petr Necas, has not pursued a policy or style friendly to voters for now, nor has it presented any personalities that could boost its popularity, Zlamalova concludes.

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