Czech president set to broker new government, alter political landscape

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

In the immediate aftermath of his re-election, Czech head of state Miloš Zeman faces the problem of brokering deals that could pave the way for the creation of a stable government. But he has also hinted at much more ambitious long-term plans to transform the political system itself.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
The day after his triumphant return as president, albeit after what president Zeman himself admitted to be a relatively close race, the head of state was back at his country retreat outside Prague and made no public statements.

With the election behind him, it probably needs no statements to underline that one of his main priorities will be to act as a go between to try and put a stable government in place after the stalemate following October’s parliamentary elections. Setting about this task, Zeman will now have the backing of a fresh and final political mandate and will not have to look over his shoulder at public opinion.

ANO leader Andrej Babiš was the clear winner back in October but with 78 seats fell well short of a majority in the 200-seat lower house. And so far the ANO leader, dogged by criminal proceedings of alleged EU funding fraud, has not been able to broaden his support. His first attempt this month to win a confidence vote starkly underlined that fact.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Zeman has confirmed that he will give Babiš a second shot at forming a government, and he added after his victory on Saturday that he would not be watching the clock too closely as the ANO leader tries to patch up deals with other parties. Zeman had previously dropped his demand that Babiš bring him proof of 101-votes, or a majority, in the lower house.

But it was not all what Zeman said at his victory celebrations at a Prague hotel but who he said it with that might give a clue to the political way ahead. Zeman shared the victory podium with acting head of the Social Democrat Party, Milan Chovanec, and the leader of the anti-Islam and anti-migrant party, Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), Tomio Okamura.

A day later Chovanec confirmed that he would be running for the leadership of the party at a special congress to be held in mid-February. The much diminished Social Democrats have just 15 seats in parliament but could nonetheless be a key element in a possible coalition.

And Zeman has already signalled that he intends to make changes in Czech politics that would dovetail with some of the demands of Okamura’s SPD, jointly the third biggest force in the Czech lower house with 22 seats. This is what Zeman said on Saturday.

Tomio Okamura,  photo: Jana Přinosilová
ʺI would like it if ordinary citizens could decide not just in referenda but also, for example, in direct elections for mayors of towns, mayors of cities, and also for regional governors and, of course, what has already happened – direct elections of the president.ʺ

Backing for national referenda on key issues was one of the main points that distinguished Zeman from his presidential challenger, Jiří Drahoš, with much of the existing political establishment also wary of what such a move could bring.