Saturday, 16 December 2017

Respekt: Zeman is favourite, yet may lose presidential election

ČTK |
28 November 2017

Prague, Nov 27 (CTK) - President Milos Zeman is the favourite of the Czech direct presidential election in which he will be facing eight rivals in January, but he may surprisingly fail like he surprisingly succeeded in the previous election in 2013, Erik Tabery writes in weekly Respekt out on Monday.

Zeman has very loyal hardcore voters who would sacrifice their lives for him. This base is very strong, approximately 30 percent of the voters, Tabery says.

The rest of his supporters, about 15 percent of the voters, would be glad to see 73-year-old Zeman occupying the presidential post, but they would like him to be in a better health condition and his behaviour to be less embarrassing, Tabery writes.

Even Zeman's voters mind his infirm health and his boorish manners. Opinion surveys also show that his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek and his close assistant and businessman Martin Nejedly worsen Zeman's reputation, Tabery writes.

He says if these supporters of Zeman see a candidate whom they will not assess negatively, they may prefer this candidate.

But Zeman has a smart strategy. He refused to meet other presidential candidates in debates. He thus avoided a direct confrontation of a weak old man with men of both physical and mental strength. In this way, he also forced the others to fight between themselves, Tabery writes.

Moreover, Zeman set the latest possible date of the constituent session of the lower house of parliament because this means that the house will take a confidence vote in the new government only in January, close to the date of the presidential election. A confidence vote means more attention for Zeman and less attention for his rivals, Tabery says.

He says opinion polls indicate that researcher Jiri Drahos has the biggest chance of defeating Zeman in the fight for the presidential post. People mostly appreciate Drahos for being well educated, cultivated and dignified.

But Drahos may follow the bad example of statistician Jan Fischer who ran for Czech president four years ago and failed even though he was the most popular candidate one month before the election. The strongest association one has with Drahos is that he is reserved. Restraint seems a good human quality, but it may easily be mistaken for unclarity, hesitation or even cowardice, Tabery writes.

Unless Drahos defines his own safe zone for risking, he may soon lose his chance, Tabery adds.

In the previous election, an outsider advanced to the second round: then foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg was popular only among 7 percent of the voters one month before the first round, according to a CVVM poll from December 2012, Tabery writes.

Is there somebody like Schwarzenberg now? he says.

It seems unlikely that former right-wing prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who joined the presidential competition in the last moment, could play this role. Topolanek is considered a politician whom most of the public strongly reject rather than an outsider. Two opinion polls recently indicated that 75 percent of the respondents would never support Topolanek's presidential bid, Tabery writes.

Supporters of Topolanek claim that he is the only man strong enough to beat Zeman and keep probable next prime minister Andrej Babis (ANO) under control. But this logic does no work: one cannot make fun of people who vote for Babis because they ignore his scandals and at the same time promote Topolanek and argue that the scandals around Topolanek need to be forgotten because Babis poses the biggest threat now, Tabery writes.

Moreover, if one sharply rejects the voters of Zeman and Babis, one cannot win these voters over and gain a majority in the runoff election. Even right-wing voters realise that a candidate who can appeal to all may defeat Zeman rather than a right winger, Tabery writes.

The thing that might improve the position of Topolanek would be the engagement of billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, for whom Topolanek works as a lobbyist, in the campaign. If Kretinsky decided to use the media he owns, including the widest circulation tabloid daily Blesk, in support of Topolanek's candidacy, the situation could be quite different. But would the entrepreneur enter such a political game? Tabery writes.

The currently third most popular candidate is entrepreneur Michal Horacek who started campaigning one year ago. Being the first candidate, Horacek gained a lot of public attention, but he recently appears to be losing energy. Horacek wants to give people self-confidence, which is nice, but he will have to present something more concrete in the close of the campaign if he wants to make a breakthrough, Tabery writes.

The remaining five candidates are practically unknown to the public and it would be very difficult for them to turn into a shooting star, Tabery says.

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