Thursday, 24 April 2014

Týden: Various voter camps to back presidential rivals

ČTK |
16 January 2013

Prague, Jan 15 (CTK) - Various camps of Czech voters will support former socialist prime minister Milos Zeman and Deputy Prime Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09) in the final round of the direct presidential election, Lukas Bek has written in weekly Tyden.

Though Zeman has declared himself a left-wing candidate and Schwarzenberg is generally considered a right-wing politician, Czech voters will divide in two groups in the forthcoming election also based on other criteria, Bek writes.

The presidential duel will be a fight between the countryside and cities, between supporters of a resolute rule and intellectuals from cafes, he writes, first mentioning groups preferring the retired politician Zeman and second those preferring the aristocratic Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg.

Bek says the camps of outgoing President Vaclav Klaus's followers and of those nostalgically recalling the times of late president Vaclav Havel will clash, too.

Schwarzenberg headed the Presidential Office under Havel in the 1990s for some time.

Klaus and Zeman were leaders of rival parties, but they made a power-sharing pact in 1998, under which Klaus's Civic Democrats (ODS) tolerated a minority government of Zeman's Social Democrats (CSSD) in exchange for a share in power. This "opposition agreement" was criticised by most "truth-and-lovers", which is how the camp of Havel's supporters is nicknamed. Klaus indicated previously that he supports Zeman in the presidential election.

Bek points out that many Czech voters will not cast their votes on January 25-26 because they favour neither Zeman nor Schwarzenberg.

He says Zeman's main advantage is that he can criticise the current centre-right government of unpopular Petr Necas (ODS) and win the protest votes.

The junior opposition Communist Party (KSCM), whose voters are known for being disciplined and many of whom will take part in the second round, supported Zeman shortly after the first round ended, Bek adds.

The Social Democrat leadership followed with its declaration of support to Zeman, their former leader who established his own grouping, the extra-parliamentary Party of Citizens' Rights (SPOZ), several years ago, he writes.

But CSSD's official candidate Jiri Dienstbier, who ended in the fourth position and did not advance to the second round, expressed his reservations about Zeman, Bek recalls.

"I cannot fully support Milos Zeman...because of his problematic ties. He is linked to Prague godfather Tomas Hrdlicka and the Prague mafia through (his assistant and grey eminence) Miroslav Slouf," Dienstbier told Tyden.

Bek notes that Schwarzenberg pointed to his good relations with Dienstbier's father Jiri Dienstbier Sr, late first post-communist foreign minister of the country.

Vladimir Spidla, former CSSD leader and Czech EU commissioner, expressed support to Schwarzenberg, too.

Bek says the CSSD leadership should fear Zeman's possible presidency the most.

The party's current chairman Bohuslav Sobotka is on Zeman's list of traitors who did not support him in a parliamentary presidential election in 2003 and Zeman repeatedly made it clear that he would never forgive his former colleagues, Bek writes.

Zeman's cabinet ended in 2002 and he decided not to defend his post of CSSD leader over his plan to become president, but some CSSD MPs did not support Zeman's presidential candidacy in a secret parliamentary vote. Zeman retired from politics as a result and moved to the countryside.

Bek says Zeman as president would attack the CSSD and he may even try to help the camp of those still loyal to him win control over the party.

As far as Schwargenberg is concerned, he may try to cut his links with the unpopular government and he already discussed with Necas whether he would leave the cabinet now, Bek writes.

The membership of Necas's government and the connection with highly unpopular Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, TOP 09's mastermind and first deputy chairman, is Schwarzenberg's biggest disadvantage, Bek writes.

Bek says election turnout will be a key factor in the second round.

He recalls that 61 percent of the voters cast their votes in the first round last weekend.

In the Senate elections, in which the same two-round system is used, the number of voters regularly shrinks in the second round. If this happens also in the presidential election, it will probably help Zeman because the disciplined Communists promised him their support, Bek writes.

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