President and challenger appear in front of Social Democrat senators – and the TV cameras

Václav Klaus and Jan Švejnar, photo: CTK

All eyes on Tuesday afternoon were on the Czech Senate, where the two candidates in Friday week’s presidential election were taking part in a Q and A-session-cum-debate. For over an hour, the incumbent Václav Klaus and the challenger Jan Švejnar sat opposite each other before senators from the opposition Social Democrats in what was a strictly controlled exchange, with a maximum one minute allowed for questions, and three for replies. I spoke to my colleague Jan Richter who was at the Senate and first asked him how he would characterise the debate.

Václav Klaus and Jan Švejnar,  photo: CTK
“Technically it was not a debate. It was a hearing in front of Social Democrat senators group. The format was different – both candidates could ask questions about various aspects of Czech politics.

“Given the fact that it wasn’t a neutral debate chaired by a neutral presenter it was rather heated, especially towards the end. Formally this has no significance, as the president gets elected by both houses of the Czech Parliament.

“The thing is, though, that because it was televised and it received such wide publicity it might pressure some MPs, because it might change the public view of both candidates.”

In particular what issues were the senators asking the two candidates about?

“They raised a number of issues, starting with the political and economic transformation of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic in the 1990s. Then various controversial issues, including the adoption of the euro, the role of NGOs, the issue of global warming…

“The thing is that because it wasn’t on neutral ground, it was hosted by the Social Democrat senators group, most or all of the questions were asked to provoke Vaclav Klaus to give his well-known ideas about these controversial topics…”

And did they succeed in provoking Mr Klaus?

“Oh yes, they did. I think the major interest of the senators was not to get some new information from Václav Klaus but to lay the ground for Jan Švejnar to object and reject Václav Klaus’s ideas about these things.

“For example on the issue of privatisation, Mr Klaus said the privatisation here was more successful than any other countries in central and eastern Europe. Whereas Jan Švejnar said the Czech language had given the international lexicon two words – robot and also the word tunnelling [asset-stripping]. So they conflicted on most of these questions.”