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Zeman will not be re-elected, Czech PM tells Austrian press

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Prague/Vienna, Aug 25 (CTK) – Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka believes that current President Milos Zeman will not be re-elected in January and that the political culture at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, will change with his departure, he has said in an interview with Austrian daily Die Presse.

In reaction to Sobotka’s words, Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said on Twitter that “the alliance of the old political parties, media and NGOs simply supports another candidate who is tractable.”

Zeman, 72, who is the first Czech president elected directly in January 2013, announced that he would seek re-election for another five-year term.

Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) also commented on migration issues in the interview. He said the Czech Republic would like to help people from Eastern Europe, but Czechs did not want to accept Muslims as they can see problems with the Muslim community in other countries.

Sobotka told Die Presse that the statements by Zeman, who recently called the prime minister a “swine” in public, said nothing about the political culture in the Czech Republic, but they rather reflected the political culture at the Presidential Office.

“I believe that we will have another head of state after the next presidential election and that the culture at Prague Castle will change then,” Sobotka said.

Zeman gained support in the previous presidential election five years ago since he had presented himself as an outsider and people did not know what they would experience with him, Sobotka said.

“Cute. The Czech prime minister from the CSSD is slandering the Czech president in the Austrian press,” Ovcacek tweeted in reaction to the interview with Sobotka.

Political analyst Petr Robejsek, founder of the extra-parliamentary Realists party, assessed Sobotka’s words in a similar way: “We may think about Zeman whatever we want, but it is cheap that the prime minister is backbiting him abroad,” Robejsek wrote.

On Wednesday, Sobotka told Czech reporters that his CSSD did not have its own presidential candidate yet. He did not rule out that the CSSD might not field its candidate eventually.

Sobotka also commented on the alliance between Zeman and government ANO chairman Andrej Babis.

Zeman profits from the situation where Babis has not sent any presidential candidate to the campaign, Sobotka said. “And Babis will profit from the fact that Zeman will assign him to form a new government,” he added.

Babis’ ANO is a clear favourite of the October general election and is to gain from 20 up to 30 percent of the vote, according to opinion polls.

In the interview, Sobotka explained the low support for the CSSD in opinion polls by the rise of populist movements. “We, Social Democrats, have failed to sell our successes sufficiently,” he said.

Commenting on the redistribution of refugees across the EU, Sobotka pointed to the joint stance of the Visegrad Four (V4) Group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) that rejected the quotas. He said he was convinced that the “coercive quotas” would play no role in the European asylum policy in the future.

“We would appreciate it very much if Europe better protected its outer border,” he stressed.

“The admission of refugees should always remain within the power of national countries. We can see problems in Europe with the integration of the people who come from a different cultural and religious environment,” Sobotka said.

He highlighted that there was just a small, not-radicalised Muslim community in the Czech Republic.

“When observing the problems in other European countries, we do not want Muslims in the Czech Republic any more. We are helping people who come from Eastern Europe,” Sobotka said.

He, at the same time, pointed out that the Czech Republic helped tackle the migrant crisis by its financial support for Libyan coastguard and refugee camps and by the deployment of Czech police in the Balkans.

Speaking about the EU issues, Sobotka said the Czech Republic was striving for progress in the sphere of joint EU defence.

There are no economic obstacles to the euro adoption either, but there is not political consensus for this step, he added.

“If the countries using the euro are integrating more strongly soon, this will definitively encourage the euro supporters,” he told Die Presse.

Sobotka gave the interview on the occasion of his visit to Salzburg where he attended a meeting in the “Slavkov format” with the Austrian and Slovak PMs, Christian Kern and Robert Fico, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron.

The “Slavkov format” of meetings of the Czech and Slovak prime ministers and the Austrian chancellor was created at their summit in Slavkov near Brno, South Moravia, in January 2015.

However, the V4 remains the core of the regional cooperation, Sobotka said.

“The problems in Poland and Hungary do not exceed the level due to which we would have to react dramatically. If we did react, we talked to our partners first,” Sobotka said, rejecting a possible interruption of cooperation with these two V4 countries that now face criticism for threatening the rule on law.

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