Presidential election in Czechia, first round 15th january 2003

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Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy

-

15 January 2003
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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

On 15th January 2003, the two Chambers of Czech Parliament (Senate and Chamber of Representatives) will gather together to elect the President of the Republic. The Czech Constitution does not allow the head of State to undertake more than two mandates; the present President Vaclav Havel who was elected to the country's highest office on 3rd February 1993 and re-elected on 20 January 1998 (after having twice occupied the same presidential functions when Czechoslovakia still existed) cannot therefore stand again. The playwright, a famous dissident of the Charter 77 under the communist regime and a true hero of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, has left his mark on this post which is usually only of symbolic significance. Due to his personal role in the country's recent history and in the transformation of the former Czechoslovakia into a true democracy Vaclav Havel has asserted himself at the head of the Czechia for the last thirteen years. This will not be the case for his successor who will have to undertake an unflinching political battle and rally people together, beyond his own movement, in order to make his presence felt in the supreme position. Two weeks before the first round of the election four people have been declared candidates for the position of Head of State. We should however remember that the candidates for the presidential election can be presented and recorded until the evening of 13th January.

The Contenders

Those who are official candidates to date are as follows:

Vaclav Klaus, 61 years old, candidate for the Democratic Civic Party (ODS) of which he has been the leader since its creation in 1991, Finance Minister after the fall of the communist regime in December 1989 and former Czech Prime Minister between 1993-1997;

Jaroslav Bures, candidate for the Social Democrat Party (CSSD), former Justice Minister;

Petr Pithart, 61 years old, candidate presented by the Christian Democrat Union - Czech People's Party (KDU-CSL, former dissident of the Charter 77, re-elected at the beginning of December to the Presidency of the Senate (a function that he previously occupied between 1996-1998 and between 2000-2002);

Miroslav Krizenecky, candidate for the Bohemian and Moravian Communist Party (KSCM), former military prosecutor and at present a lawyer.

The present ruling coalition that unites the Social Democrat Party (CSSD) and the Centrist Coalition (Christian Democrat Union -Czech People's Party, KDU-CSL, and the Freedom Union -Democratic Union, US-DEU), did not manage to come to an agreement on a common candidate for the presidential election. At the end of November the CSSD organised an initial internal election in order to pick out its own candidate. This vote, that attracted few militants, witnessed the victory of the former 58 year old Social Democrat Prime Minister (1998-200) Milos Zeman, ahead of Jaroslav Bures and Otakar Motejl, Czechia's present mediator and famous lawyer, who defended many Czech dissidents after the normalisation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968. However Milos Zeman has declared many times that he is not interested in succeeding Vaclav Havel at the head of Czechia and that he wanted to end his political activities.

A controversial indirect election

The President of Czechia is elected in a secret vote by the two Chambers of Parliament, who for this event, meet in the Castle of Prague, the official Presidency seat. In order to be elected after the first round a candidate has to win an absolute majority of the vote within each of the two Chambers. If none of the people standing achieves this results only the two candidates having won the highest number of votes are allowed to stand in the second round. However a political movement may change candidate between rounds. Hence Milos Zeman plans to stand in case Parliament fails in electing a new President at the end of the first round. The Social Democrat Party is opposed to this, particularly the present Prime Minister Vladimir Spilda, who is also the CSSD leader.

The Chamber of Representatives comprises two hundred members; for its part the Senate has 81. The government coalition (CSSD-KDU/CSL-US/DEU) only has one majority vote in the Chamber of Representatives. As for the forces within the upper Chamber, the last elections in October and November 2002 turned to the advantage of the liberal opposition, with the Democratic Civic Party winning four seats to reach 26 members whilst the Social Democrat Party regressed by 10 seats, dropping down to 36 members only. So the candidates of the two main movements have by no means won yet; Vaclav Klaus (ODS) and Jaroslav Bures (CSSD), who must absolutely rally together support beyond their political families, believe they have a chance of making it to the supreme office.

The nature of the Republic created in Prague is the subject of a lively debate between the various political groups: should the regime maintain its parliamentary aspect or should it become a presidential one? The question surrounding the election of the head of State by direct universal suffrage is asked on a regular basis. Last year a consensus was concluded between the main parties who were in favour of the direct election of the President. The Democratic Civic Party who were opposed to this change in mode of election for a long time because of the "the Czech people's lack of political maturity" ended up by falling into line with its political partners. The present President Vaclav Havel who was only elected by one majority vote in the election of 20th January 1998 would also have liked the people to choose his successor directly; this would enable the new president to achieve legitimacy and thereby enable him also to find his true position way beyond the political parties. As for the Czech's themselves they say they are in favour (more than 80% in all the opinion polls) of the direct election of the head of State. The busy electoral calendar of 2002 (general elections on 14th & 15th June, Senatorial elections on 25th & 26th October and 1st & 2nd November) did not allow for a modification in the method of electing the president. The Social Democrat Party is opposed to the Democratic Civic Party on this subject since the latter would like a simple change to the Constitution, the CSSD believes however that the capabilities of the President of the Republic should also be re-defined on this occasion.

Although the President in Czechia only has a symbolic role the succession to Vaclav Havel is being fiercely fought over. Most political analysts believe that none of the candidates will be elected during the first round of the Czech presidential election. In this case the second round will take place two weeks later at the latest.

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