Czech presidential elections: what next?
Last weekend, in a protracted and often heated joint session of Parliament, Czech lawmakers failed to elect either incumbent Václav Klaus or his opponent Jan Švejnar the new head of state. With the second Czech presidential election fast approaching, a number of key issues remain unresolved. In today’s Talking Point, we examine why last Friday’s election failed to produce a result, the procedural wrangling that continues to dominate the process, and what we can expect from next Friday’s vote.
“What do you think of the way that the Czech presidential election has been conducted so far?”
“It is a comedy.”
“What makes you say that?”
“It is hard to explain what I feel about it but I am so disappointed. I think it is not a democratic way. It is just like the communist era.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because they are blaming each other, one person says that it is like this, the second person says it is like that. The presidential candidates, I’m actually quite sorry for them.”
“I think it is kind of funny because they have elections about how they are going to elect them. It’s really weird that they can just argue about how they can elect the president.”
“We, it looks like we have a political culture which demonstrates itself in this way. So it is how it is and I don’t really think it is a big disaster or a tragedy or anything like that.”
“So you just think it is the normal way of doing things?”
“It could be better, it could be more let’s say civilised, but I wouldn’t see it as a political disaster or anything.”
Despite the end result, Education Minister and Green party MP Ondřej Liška maintains that the result showed that the challenger is continuing to build momentum:
On the other side of the political fence, Civic Democrat MP Vlastimil Tlustý expressed disappointment over both the end result and the overall election process:
“My first reaction is that it is a shame. We didn’t expect such a…I don’t know how to say it…procedure or terrible two days. So there is no result, and it doesn’t look well.”
Sociologist Ivan Gabal believes that both candidates are still very much in the race:
Yet most pollsters still firmly favour Mr. Klaus, with many Civic Democrat lawmakers continuing to believe that their candidate can succeed in a secret ballot, in which stray MPs and senators can favour their candidate without fear of retribution. So are all these protracted machinations an unprecedented and unwelcome by-product of the Czech political system?
“I consider it an absolutely consistent and regular part of the election procedure. We could see a very sophisticated battle between the two camps where the question of a secret or public vote was of major significance because there was suspicion that some MPs from the opposition side were subject to horse trading and in a secret vote, that they would vote against their colleagues and their parties. Due to this, the coalition supporting Mr Švejnar put a public vote on the table and they undertook a lot of regular parliamentary procedures and work to get their way – and they won. I think, due to the fact that they won on the public vote issue, Václav Klaus was not re-elected in this first election.”
The other major player in this election will be the Communist party. In a widely predicted move, the communists abstained from the third round of the presidential vote. At present, the party remains split between reformers, who are content to support Švejnar, and an old guard which continues to press for the nomination of an alternative candidate. Political analyst Petr Just believes that the communists are facing a pivotal moment in their post-1989 existence:
Michael Kraus, an advisor to the Jan Švejnar team, acknowledges the role the communist factor will play in these elections:
“The communist party stands before a historic choice. They have stated that they will under no circumstances support the current president, so the question as to whether they want to step forward and assume a measure of responsibility and give their support to Jan Švejnar, whom they acknowledge is someone they still consider a candidate, that is a decision they will have to make. Because if they nominate anyone else, or if they pursue some other tactics - if they support that the election be held in secret - in effect they will do what they claim they don’t want to do, elect Mr. Klaus.”
The deadline for the nomination of an alternative candidate for the second candidate is midnight Tuesday. Reports suggest that the communists will ultimately not propose an alternative candidate. Whether that means that this party can now unite behind Jan Švejnar remains to be seen.