Political analyst: president’s active role in campaigning may mobilize right-wing voters

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

Campaigning in October’s general elections got off the ground this week with a number of new and established parties presenting their election programmes. In addition to the usual election rivalry between established parties and promises of change from newcomers, an unexpected player has entered the fray: President Milos Zeman is campaigning hard for his own party, regardless of criticism from all sides. I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe about the character of this election campaign and the president’s role in it.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“The parties that used to form the previous government, especially TOP 09 and the Civic Democratic Party, simply cannot lead the election campaign along the left-right axis because they would be soundly beaten. The sentiments in society are such that these parties and their policies as government parties were very unpopular, so they have tried to find different approaches and issues. TOP 09 is trying to present itself as a party that opposes President Zeman’s autocratic impulses, whereas the Civic Democrats will try, I think, as their main topic anti-communism and anti-communist mobilization. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to keep the campaign on the left-right axis. It is advantageous for them and they can portray the centre-right parties as incompetent and as having caused a lot of damage. That is what they are doing and of course the Communist Party is doing the same. So we have these main parties and then we have the smaller parties, new movements and groups which really do not have too much time to present their views and that is why they go for shortcuts.”

Photo: CTK
This election campaign is also being strongly influenced by the president – he is touring the regions, he has strongly supported his own party…

“Yes, I think if we can see something really new in this election campaign it is the role of the president who is not ashamed to claim that he is above political parties while campaigning for his own party. So this is a new factor in Czech politics, also, parties such as TOP 09 and, to some measure, also the Civic Democrats are basically running a campaign against the president, not against their political opponents. That is certainly a novelty in Czech politics and that may play an important role in how the elections turn out.”

Do you think it will put voters off?

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“Actually, I think this will have a mobilizing effect, that a lot of voters who voted for Karel Schwarzenberg in the presidential elections will be motivated to vote against Mr. Zeman, so the strategy of TOP 09 in particular seems to me to be quite good and speaks to the kind of voters they want to gain. And then, we have voters on the left who have a strong motivation to express what they feel because they were very frustrated by the previous government and in my opinion they will go to the polls and vote. So I would not be surprised if the electoral participation surpasses what we have seen in the last few elections.”