>Wanted (but not necessarily by me): President non-Klaus


As the end of Václav Klaus‘s term as Czech President draws into view, his political opponents are desperately casting around for a credible candidate to unseat him – calls to find such a person have recently been issued by Green Party leader Martin Bursík – in coalition with Klaus‘s centre-right Civic Democrats, who are, of course, backing their former leader to the hilt for a second term (probably to keep him busily occupied quixotically denouncing global warning as left-wing conspiracy and thus out of day-to-day Czech right-wing politics, where he might actually have some influence). Ex-President Václav Havel has also made a rare public foray into Czech politics with a similar appeal and now Social Democrat leader and ex-PM Jiří Paroubek has joined him with a neat job specification: said non-Klaus must be a pro-European, non-party figure with, as the Czechs say, strong ‘social sentiment’ (= commitment to welfare state and some form of social market). Failing such a unity candidate he would want a candidate of the left (which I interpret as meaning one guaranteed to pull in the votes of Communist deputies – the Czech President is elected by a joint session of the two houses of the Czech Parliament, not by popular vote).

The trouble is that it is hard to find any such figure with any real political gravitas or credibility. Indeed, it is hard to find any such figure who is not, politically speaking, a non-entity. Names floated in the Czech press include the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences Helena Illnerová and the former Rector of Charles Univesity Ivan Wilhelm and Christian Democrat Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová. Despite having spent more than a decade studying Czech politics and knowing the importance and prestige education in the Czech pysche I still am baffled as to why – even if a weak President would suit them – Czech political parties always see distinguished academics as suitable and credible candidates to be head of state. This seems to be the rough equivalent of proposing Anthony Giddens to take over in Buckingham Palace in some future British republic (although personally I suspect he would do a rather good job). Of the three names Parkanová is the most serious candidate, but – although it is positive that Czechs are still thinking of a woman President – to me she lacks breadth of appeal and statute. Despite entering politics as a nominee of the liberal Freedom Union party, she has since joining the Christian Democrats endorsed some of the party’s illiberal social positions as well as backing the stationing of US radar bases by sponsoring a rather excruciating parody of Russian pop song about Yurii Gargarin, neither of which would exactly pull in the votes of left-wing parliamentarians. Moreover, some Christian Democrats, perhaps seduced by the prospect of a long-term merger with the Civic Democrats, are quite happy to back Klaus, who – it must be noted – enjoys approval ratings of around 70 per cent and would probably win a popular vote.

As in 2003, it seems that lack of a candidate with breadth and depth will see Klaus win. Indeed, both the parliamentary arithmetic and lack of alternatives favour Klaus much more strongly this time round. In 2003 two political heavyweights, ex-dissident Christian Democrat and former President of the Czech Senate Petr Pithart (whom I admired) and ex-leader of the Social Democrats Miloš Zeman (whom I admired rather less), at least seemed initially to have a chance of making it to Prague Castle before inter- and intra-party split made it clear that neither could build a broad enough parliamentary coalition and a desperate search for ‘non-partisan’ figures began in the ranks minor (ex-)politicians and academics. Reluctantly, I ended up thinking that in electing Klaus, the Czech parliament had made the best choice. Unfortunately, bar some kind of Barack Czech Obama figure bursting onto the political scene, I think I probably be thinking the same when Klaus is re-elected.

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