Civic Democrats for direct presidential election to support their own candidate

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

A direct presidential election has been the subject of political debate here in the Czech Republic for many years. All of the parties that form the present government coalition promoted the idea of direct presidential election in their manifestos earlier this year, while the opposition Civic Democrats, or ODS, were strongly against it. Now, they have suddenly changed their tune. In order to increase the chances of their own presidential candidate, former prime minister and long-time party leader, Vaclav Klaus, they are suddenly proclaiming loudly that there should be a direct vote in the presidential election next year. Alena Skodova reports:

Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
The president in the Czech Republic is elected by parliament, which is a tradition firmly rooted since the time when independent Czechoslovakia was established in 1918. The parties that now form the government coalition have been trying to put through the idea of a direct election of the president for quite some time, but have not been successful due to the votes of the Civic Democrats in the lower house. Now, when their leader, Vaclav Klaus, announced his candidacy for the presidential post, the direct vote seems to be a No1 issue for them. But for a direct presidential election, to be held in January, the Czech constitution would have to be amended - and political analyst Jiri Pehe says it's too late now:

"I think the chance of getting the constitutional amendment that could allow a direct presidential election through parliament is very small at this point, simply because it would mean that the Czech Republic would have to be without a president for a few months. It does not seem possible at this point to pass a constitutional amendment, have a meaningful presidential campaign and still be able to elect the president in January when he or she should be elected. So I think the other parties that have supported the direct election of the president will simply object to this fact, unless they all agree that the Czech Republic could be without a president for a few months, and I don't think this is very likely."

So now it seems there's a consensus in parliament concerning the direct presidential election - the only obstacle could have been the Communists who intended to exchange their support for it for the abolition of the Senate, but their votes will not be necessary now, when the Civic Democrats are all for it. This is certainly going to be a matter discussed in the future, but the new Czech president starts his term in office in February. So what chances Vaclav Klaus has among voters? Jiri Pehe again:

"I think that no matter whether we have the parliamentary election of the president or the direct election of the president, Mr. Klaus's chances are slim. In parliament he does not enough support because his party does not have enough votes to get him elected and it is a party which does not have a coalition potential that would allow it to get Mr. Klaus elected. Mr. Klaus is a paralysing rather than an integrating figure and he would simply not get enough vote in parliament - that's why they propose a direct election. But I think that even in the direct election Mr. Klaus does not have good chances of becoming the next president simply because he could do well in the first round, where all the ODS voters and perhaps some other voters would vote for him, and he could get around 30 percent of the popular vote, but if we have a two-round election of the president, which I suppose will be the case, he would have great difficulties in getting more than 50 percent in the second round."