New party bets on popularity of charismatic leader


TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg and his team have just launched an unusual campaign aimed at getting young Czechs to vote. It revolves around the charismatic politician himself: voters can connect with him via online chats and even win the chance to spend an evening at the pub with Mr. Schwarzenberg. But what role does the leader’s popularity play in the overall success of this new party?

TOP 09 was only founded last summer and the party is running in the general elections for the first time this May. Nonetheless, it polls around 10 percent in election surveys. The charisma of its leader, Karel Schwarzenberg, seems to be key to the success of the relatively young party.

Mr. Schwarzenberg, an aristocrat and former minister of foreign affairs, is considered to be the country’s most trustworthy politician, according to a recent survey by the web-based agency SANEP.

On Friday, the party chairman and his team presented a project aimed at raising young peoples’ interest in politics. The campaign “S Karlem”, or in English “With Karel”, is focused on the prince and politician, offering opportunities to chat with him online or even drink a beer with him in the pub. Why is Mr. Schwarzenberg so popular with Czech voters? That’s a question I put to political analyst Petr Just.

“He tries to present himself as a normal person. He doesn’t pretend to be someone else. That’s probably what people like about him. Many politicians, even those of ordinary origin, sometimes try to make themselves look better and watch what they say and how they say it to a great extent. Karel Schwarzenberg talks like people do on the street or in the pub and that’s probably what makes him so popular and why many people think he is very close to them.”

The new campaign also features an interactive game that unites online elements with a sort of treasure hunt on the streets of Prague. The sculptor David Černý devised the game concept and the campaign’s ubiquitous design of Schwarzenberg’s face rendered in the style of Andy Warhol’s four-color portraits. Nicolas Šmíd is one of the managers of the “With Karel” campaign.

“I think he’s a generous man, he speaks slowly but his ideas are very deep. He would never lie out of a business interest in politics. People who know his history I think understand that it’s important to stand behind him and give him some power.”

A great deal of TOP 09’s campaign strategy is based on the personality of Karel Schwarzenberg. But how big of a role does he play in the overall success of TOP 09? Political analyst Petr Just again.

“If they didn’t have someone as strong, charismatic and popular as Mr. Schwarzenberg, the party probably would be in a much harder position and less successful. People try to personalize political parties with the leader, and he serves as an image, a brand name and a trademark for the party. And often, that attracts people more than the party and the program itself.”