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Anti-Zeman campaign may contribute to his re-election

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Prague, Oct 31 (CTK) – The events Prague intellectuals staged last weekend in protest against Milos Zeman have paradoxically boosted his chance of being re-elected as Czech president in 2018, because they may have irritated his numerous supporters outside Prague, Filip Rozanek writes in Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Monday.

The moral appeals made by a group of intellectuals, including popular artists will have just the opposite effect than what they expected. Zeman’s supporters are allergic to those presenting themselves as “conscience of the nation” appealing to them from Prague, Rozanek writes.

If Zeman announces next March that he will seek re-election for another five years, his supporters will be fighting for him, Rozanek writes.

The united crowd of fans is Zeman’s advantage. His opponents, for their part, rely on pranks and memes. They also write appeals and make urgent statements before cameras. They fragment their strength in seeking rival candidates of Zeman, who are completely unknown or their choice looks expedient, Rozanek writes.

True, more than 10,000 people met at an anti-Zeman rally in Prague on Friday. Candles were lit, the anthem was sung, former senior officials Petr Pithart and Miroslava Nemcova were among the speakers. However, Zeman is accustomed to such reactions, Rozanek writes, referring to the “Thank you, leave” appeal from 1999 that called for the departure of Zeman as the prime minister and Vaclav Klaus as the lower house chairman.

The signatories criticised the alleged moral decline of the country where Zeman’s minority Social Democrat (CSSD) government was kept afloat by the arch rival Civic Democrats (ODS) led by Klaus. They said Zeman’s government harmed the country’s image, Rozanek writes.

Zeman, nevertheless, ignored the appeal and his cabinet completed its four-year term, Rozanek says.

Zeman also ignored the call for his resignation that thousands of people made waving red cards at a demonstration in November 2014, he writes.

Not only Zeman has not changed his behaviour, but people outside Prague became convinced that Zeman faces attacks by members of the elites who are disconnected from real life. Two groups separated by yawning gap have emerged in society. The more opponents attack Zeman, the stronger the camp of his defenders is, Rozanek writes.

The Friday event in Prague was staged by Zeman’s critics as an alternative to the national holiday ceremony at which Zeman presented state awards. They protested against his alleged refusal to award Holocaust survivor Jiri Brady due to a meeting Brady’s relative, Culture Minister Daniel Herman, had with the Dalai Lama.

The protest event actually meant no change in the sentiment of society. Like in previous similar cases, it was attended by a group of Zeman’s opponents who persuade each other that they represent the majority of people, Rozanek writes.

However, it is misleading to watch events from Prague’s point of view. It is not enough to criticise Zeman in a popular television talk show. A change can only be achieved if the critics win support from the broad public outside Prague, Rozanek writes.

To win the broad public’s support, it is enough for Zeman to visit individual regions, praise the local-made sausages, pots or industrial plants. There is nothing bad about this. In doing so, he makes it clear that he is interested in people and ready to defend them after they were derided by politicians for years, Rozanek writes.

People in regions project their wishes, frustrations and fears onto Zeman, who skilfully uses them as political ammunition. They have a similar relation to Andrej Babis, the billionaire finance minister and leader of the ANO movement, Rozanek writes.

The important thing is not whether Zeman and Babis are really able to help people solve their troubles. It is important that no other political leaders give people this impression, Rozanek writes.

He who will want to replace Zeman, will have to offer everything his voters love about him, including a portion of political incorrectness, straightforwardness and robustness, he continues.

Being an experienced politician, Zeman knows well how to lead his personal presidential campaign and what his fans want to hear. He prefers addressing the electorate outside Prague. His opponents may learn a lesson from him and start campaigning outside the capital city as well, Rozanek writes.

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