Could war on Ukraine impact Czech presidential elections?

Miloš Zeman

 The Czech Republic has been rocked by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Some are already wondering if the conflict could impact the biggest event in Czech politics this year, campaigning for January’s presidential elections. I discussed the situation with political scientist Miloš Gregor, but I began by asking about the position of incumbent Miloš Zeman, who before the war supported Vladimir Putin.

“Miloš Zeman is at the edge of the political spectrum in the Czech Republic.

“For years he’s been a servant – not a servant of the people but mainly of Kremlin propaganda.

Miloš Gregor | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“He advocated for Vladimir Putin, often against Czech interests.

“Nowadays his position seems to be not comfortable for him as well.

“He switched only because he felt that there was no other way to deal with the situation.

“So in his last year of presidency he probably will not be a very influential political actor on the Czech political scene.”

Obviously it’s early days in the conflict and real campaigning for the Czech presidential elections won’t begin until the second half of this year. But still, could this conflict benefit any of the people who are declared presidential candidates or are close to declaring? I’m thinking for example of Petr Pavel, who had a high post in NATO.

“It really depends how long the war will last, because if there is a war in autumn, probably Petr Pavel will be much more media present.

“This could help him to be more visible and therefore people will think about him as a possible president.

Petr Pavel | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“However, we can feel even nowadays that people are getting maybe – it may be cynical – bored with the war. They don’t want to hear about war any more.

“And probably if Petr Pavel is running for office he could be seen as somebody who is keeping the topic of war in the public discourse.

“So there could maybe be some advantage for different candidates trying to solve the situation with immigrants in the Czech Republic, helping them at the economic level or focusing on the Czech people who are angry about immigrants.

“So who will benefit in the upcoming elections is difficult to predict.”

What about Andrej Babiš? He hasn’t officially declared yet but many people believe he is preparing to run for president. Some voices have been critical of him over Ukraine, for example over his previous alliance with President Zeman and perhaps his not so statesmanlike response to the war, especially in the beginning. Could this possibly benefit him? Or be to his detriment?

“For many years Andrej Babiš didn’t have a strong position on international politics.

“He is aware that his electorate, his voters, are partly against Vladimir Putin and partly are fans of Vladimir Putin.

“That’s why Andrej Babiš hasn’t spoken loudly against the war till now.

Andrej Babiš | Photo: archive of Czech Radio

“It will depend what the atmosphere in society will be like at the time of the elections.

“Because Andrej Babiš has a strong PR team who can feel, or measure, the atmosphere in society.

“And since Andrej Babiš has no strong position he can switch it from day to day, according to the atmosphere in society.

“So if there will be a large number of people who will be angry because of the immigrants, the economic situation and so on, Andrej Babiš will be probably the candidate who will speak in the name of these voters.”