Political analyst: The Czech president is a lone player

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

President Milos Zeman is marking two years in office as the country’s first-ever directly elected head of state. His first years in office have been marked by a succession of scandals, a slump in popularity and negative publicity in the media at home and abroad. I asked the head of the STEM polling agency Jan Hartl about the president’s performance, his influence on Czech politics and his style of leadership.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“At the beginning of his presidential term Mr. Zeman did not appear to be as controversial as some commentators expected. But later on he started appealing more or less to people with a lower social status –even by his way of speech – addressing groups with a lower education and he seemed to get support from people who are generally dissatisfied with developments in the Czech Republic. And if his appeal goes to the lower or marginal strata of the population it is a problem.”

Would you say that he has overstepped his mandate under the Czech Constitution?

“That is the view of the majority of the press –that he tries to get more powers than his position affords. His substantiation for that is that he is the first directly elected president and although officially his mandate is not any stronger – in fact, it is. And so he has repeatedly tested the political scene to see how far he could go.”

He has become quite aggressive in his attitude to the media –is this a sign of his own insecurity?

“I would say not. His aggressive attitude towards the media is a long-term phenomenon and it is not very tactical. I would even say it is stupid. But it is a phenomenon that is quite common in Czech politics. It seems that the majority of Czech politicians do not understand that the media is an important part of the political scene and that politicians –and namely Milos Zeman – need media support. President Zeman antagonizes the media at every turn and, when they can, they get their revenge and are quite coordinated in their anti-presidential campaign.”

When Mr. Zeman took office he vowed to unite the country – has he managed to do that or is he achieving the exact opposite?

Jan Hartl,  photo: Noemi Holeková
“His role as president should certainly be to search for consensus in the society and the exact opposite is true. There is no doubt that he is very controversial and that he is dividing the country. Perhaps he is even polarizing some groups and this is clearly the biggest problem of his presidency.”

Many accuse him of damaging the country’s reputation abroad – do you agree?

“Yes, his political style is somewhat strange and it does not correspond to general expectations. When you talk to people abroad, it seems that his position is perceived - at best - as strange and it is certain that he is not helping his country a great deal as was the case with Vaclav Havel.”

Do you think he is aware of the mistakes he has made and do you think he is learning from those mistakes?

“I think he is aware of the mistakes he has made and I think he not learning from them –he is just enjoying his individual role – he is very much a lone player in this respect.”