08/02/2008 - D-7 - 1st round
On 8th February the first round of the Czech presidential election will take place. The President of the Republic is appointed by secret ballot by the members of both Houses of Parliament. The 200 members of the Chamber of Representatives and the 81 Senators meet on this occasion at the Prague Castle, the Presidency's headquarters. The two candidates running are the present Head of State Vaclav Klaus, supported by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), and Jan Svejnar, professor of economics and public policy at Michigan State University, who is supported by the leftwing opposition forces, the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Greens (SZ), the Association of Independents-European Democrats (SNK-ED) and the Open Democracy Club (KOD) led by Sona Paukertova.
Jan Svejnar who has both Czech and American nationality has started a procedure to give up the latter. He maintains that if he is elected he will live with his American wife on a permanent basis in the Czech Republic. He undertook a tour of the country which ended on 30th January in Ostrava (Northern Moravia). "In my first term in office I visited each of the fourteen Czech regions at least twice. I know all the high and low roads in this country. I have 18 years of travelling to my credit," declared outgoing President Vaclav Klaus who boasts his knowledge in order to distinguish himself from his rival. It should be remembered that Jan Svejnar left Communist Czechoslovakia for the USA when he was 17. He came back in 1990. Jan Svejnar has received the support of former Head of State (1993-2003) Vaclav Havel: "It is important for someone new and able to provide new impetus to become President of the Republic. We need new blood and new energy."
Many political observers highlight the fact that both candidates share similar opinions on many issues. Both liberals, they reject the idea put forward by the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) of prohibiting the opening of supermarkets on Sundays. "What we need is for some people to work until they are 62 so that the over 70's can benefit from better pensions," maintains Jan Svejnar causing the disapproval of some opposition members. Jiri Paroubek, leader of the Social Democratic Party is quick to say that his party does not share all of Jan Svejnar's opinions: "He is neither a Socialist nor a Social Democrat. Since he is liberal we do not expect to agree on everything." However he does add "only Jan Svejnar has a chance of beating Vaclav Klaus." Both candidates have opposite ideas at least on the presidential election which Jan Svejnar would like to take place by direct universal suffrage whilst Vaclav Klaus is against this; he is also against the date of the introduction of the euro into the country which the opposition candidate would like to see happen quickly and which the outgoing President would like to delay as long as possible.
At just one week before the election the Christian-Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) continue to raise doubts about how they will vote on 8th February. KDU-CSL leader Jiri Cunek has asked his party's members to support Vaclav Klaus. The party very much hopes to gain a great deal from its support of Vaclav Klaus, notably compensation from the State for the nationalisation of their property under the communist regime (270 billion Czech Crowns).
"This does not match the attitude I have seen amongst KDU-CSL voters. This recommendation is not restrictive. For my part I am continuing discussions with the party," says Jan Svejnar. Other KDU-CSL members, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, former Foreign Minister, Cyril Svoboda and the president of the lower house, Jan Kasal say they support Jan Svejnar.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) is refusing to choose between the two candidates. However the party's vice President, Jiri Dolejs has said he supports Jan Svejnar who is the "least of two evils. It is logical to support Vaclav Klaus's rival in the first round otherwise he will be only one left running. We'll discus the name of another candidate if there is no victor in the first round, first we'll talk with the presidents of the parliamentary groups and then we shall announce this to the public," he said. The party has decreed five conditions to be fulfilled by any candidate hoping to win its support. Amongst these are, the equal treatment of all political parties. Vojech Filip, the KSCM leader campaigning for the recognition of his party, one of the most Stalinian in Central and Eastern Europe. "I never promised to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia that it might be able to have a seat in government one day and I do not believe that it is expecting me to fulfil such a promise," answered Vaclav Klaus. His rival has set several conditions if the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia wants to become a party like all of the others: "It has to reform to become a government party. We have not reached that stage yet. It must firstly abandon violence as a means to achieve its objectives. Secondly it must condemn the crimes committed under the Communist regime. Thirdly it has to accept the Czech Republic's international commitments, its membership of the European Union and NATO. Fourthly it has to accept the idea of private property, democratic society and the market economy in which we live," he indicated. "The main difference between Vaclav Klaus and myself is that I think that there are times when the market cannot work and times when the State has to take part in order to support the market so that prosperity benefits everyone," he added.
On 29th January last Vaclav Klaus and Jan Svejnar met at the Senate for a debate. Broadcast by a Czech TV channel the meeting, which was extremely technical according to some, was not really a debate at all. Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus again refused to meet Jan Svejnar in the studio as proposed by the TV channel. Jan Svejnar said he was disappointed by this decision. "It would be better if the citizens could follow a real exchange of views," he declared.
Jan Svejnar, unknown to the public just a few weeks ago, is growing in popularity rising by 15 points since November 2007 to reach 45% amongst the Czechs.
According to a poll by STEM, published on 30th January 55% of the Czechs would vote for Jan Svejnar, 45% for Vaclav Klaus if they were to elect the President of the Republic. The opposition candidate has 54% in Prague versus 46% for the present President. However the latter has 63% in Brno versus 37% for Jan Svejnar.
A poll by SC&C published two days prior to the latter revealed that 57% of Czechs hoped that Vaclav Klaus, the outgoing President would be re-elected, versus 43% for Jan Svejnar. Supporters of the Head of State like his credibility and his ability to represent the State. Jan Svejnar is seen as likeable and charismatic. His supporters see him as a personality who could bring about change.
Depending on the weighting of the political parties present, Vaclav Klaus could be re-elected on 8th February next. The secret ballot might however harbour some surprises and this election might be more difficult for the outgoing President than it was in 2003.