Přemysl Sobotka – Senate stalwart angling for eurosceptic vote

Přemysl Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek

The pinnacle of Přemysl Sobotka’s political career to date has been his chairmanship of the Czech Senate. However, Mr. Sobotka, a euro-sceptic who questions multiculturalism, seems unlikely to reach the higher summit of the presidency – partly because he is the nominee of the Civic Democrats, whose long dominance on the right has waned.

Přemysl Sobotka,  photo: Filip Jandourek
A senior consultant and radiologist during his medical career, Přemysl Sobotka joined the Civic Democrats soon after the party’s foundation in 1991 and entered the Senate in 1996. Four years later he became Senate chairman, which made him technically the country’s second most senior constitutional official. He held the position for six years, becoming for many the public face of the upper chamber.

Perhaps hoping to capitalise in a fall-off in enthusiasm for the EU among Czech voters in recent times, Mr. Sobotka – previously considered a moderate – has struck a marked eurosceptic note in his presidential campaign. He frequently refers to the Czech Republic’s “sovereignty” and one of his ads bears the slogan Our Country, Our Freedom.

“From my point of view, the federalisation of Europe is – in a system with 21 languages and 28 states – a project that I don’t regard as reasonable. I also think that it isn’t realistic.”

In a similar vein, Mr. Sobotka’s campaign materials proclaim that multiculturalism is a dead concept.

“It’s not possible that we in Europe and in the Euro-American space, which is based on Christian foundations, dramatically give in to the demands of those who don’t even want to respect the rules…Unfortunately after we in this country returned to the democratic world, the idea that we all have rights gained currency, but the fact that democracy brings many responsibilities was forgotten.”

Photo: European Commission
It remains to be seen whether playing the “sovereignty” card will pay off for Přemysl Sobotka, partly because the section of the electorate that it could appeal to also have the choice of Jana Bobošíková, whose rhetoric is fierier.

The heavy-smoking Mr. Sobotka, who is 68, was one of the first to throw his hat into the ring, signalling his intention to run for president as far back as January 2010. Nevertheless, his campaign never really seemed to get off the ground; though he won a series of Civic Democrat regional “primaries”, they did not capture the attention of mainstream voters.

Another of his problems may well be the party itself. For nearly two decades the dominant force on the Czech right, the Civic Democrats have – even though they are leading the government – haemorrhaged support in the last few years. Voters would be unlikely to embrace any nominee they fielded. That may count for more than the candidate’s Senate pedigree.