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Commentariat: Desperately seeking deserving candidate

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Earlier this summer, the Jewish community in Brno put an ad in a local newspaper in an effort to find a new rabbi. Perhaps party leaders hoping to select the ideal candidate to oust Klaus from the castle in the presidential election next February should consider doing the same.

It’s been a tough week for the anti-Klaus camp. Although the KDU-ČSL, the Greens – members of the three-party ruling coalition – and the opposition ČSSD have agreed to set aside some of their differences and come up with a strong candidate who would stand the best chance of defeating President Václav Klaus, their efforts have failed to produce any remarkable names. Czech media commentators have said as much. Some have suggested that introducing direct presidential election – under the current system, the Czech president is elected by MPs – would make things simpler.

“Of all the names put forward, Václav Klaus remains the best candidate,” Petr Kamberský wrote in Hospodářské noviny Tuesday.

The ČSSD are considering nominating Jiří Diensttbier, pre-1989 dissident and former foreign minister. The Greens prefer Jiří Švejnar, a liberal economist, who also has some support within the ČSSD but is mostly unacceptable for the conservative KDU-ČSL. According to information leaked to the media this week, Czech Academy of Sciences President Václav Pačes is the top choice of the KDU-ČSL, although the party is also considering Senate Deputy Chairman Petr Pithart.

With their strikingly different backgrounds and varied political experience, the four men share one important quality that makes them acceptable in the eyes of the Greens, the ČSSD and the KDU-ČSL: they are not Václav Klaus. But is that enough?

Not a chance, said Mladá fronta Dnes commentator Karel Steigerwald Monday. “They’re all respectable personages,” he wrote. “But they are all a variation on the theme of the foundling king.” According to Steigerwald, rather than looking for someone with solid political experience, party leaders are searching for an apolitical authority, something that de facto goes against the constitution.

Pundits agree that for now Klaus’s victory seems assured so long as he retains the support of the ruling ODS, a party he helped found more than 15 years ago, plus the support of a few defectors from the other two coalition parties.

But that puts a lot of pressure on the ODS. Last week Prague Mayor and Deputy ODS Chairman Pavel Bém said that failure to re-elect Klaus would be downfall of the current government, a statement PM Mirek Topolánek promptly refuted. In his Tuesday column Lidové noviny commentator Martin Zvěřina agreed with the prime minister. “The failure would shake up the ODS but not so much that its members would lose faith and get up and leave the government,” he wrote. “Bém is Václav Klaus’s man and his statement was a preventative warning, promising turmoil within the party (should its members fail to vote for Klaus).

One of the key difficulties the so-called anti-Klaus coalition faces is that they must come up with a candidate who pleases everybody and who has such an extensive list of outstanding qualities that he is almost unreal, wrote Kamberský in Tuesday’s Hospodářské noviny. “He must have clearly defined opinions but he must not be too controversial. He must be willing to communicate with parties, but he cannot be their puppet. He must follow in the tradition of Havel or Klaus, but he cannot be their clone, nor can he their one-sided opponent.”

Of the four candidates mentioned so far, no one fulfills these criteria, Kamberský wrote.

Another big problem is that divisions on the most suitable candidate exist even within the parties. While the Greens and the ČSSD are able to agree on at least one thing – that they hate Klaus a lot – the KDU-ČSL are not so sure. Which is also why the party has been so hesitant to reveal their preferred candidate, pundits agree. Earlier this week the name of Pačes was leaked to the media as the party’s top choice. But former KDU-ČSL Chairman and current Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has made clear that he is rooting for Klaus.

Indeed for many members of the conservative KDU-ČSL, Klaus, warts and all, is still a better option than any of the names put forward so far, Kamberský wrote.

In a Mladá fronta Dnes op-ed Tuesday titled “Who will we love?” Dan Hrubý wryly noted that rather than seeking a person who has the best qualities to fulfill the role of head of state, politicians are looking for someone deserving of the presidential title.

“It does not really matter who heads the presidential office,” he noted. “After several months of acclimatisation, he will be a good president, because that is part of his job title.” And that is why it is so hard to come up with candidate, Hrubý argues. “What is being decided here is who is worthy of being universally anointed. And that’s why direct presidential election would be so much better – we don’t need cardinals who elect for us someone akin to a pope.”

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