President-elect Zeman wastes no time in wading into party politics

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

Within hours of becoming the first directly elected head of state of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman made it clear that he has no intention of being a docile occupant of Prague Castle. Indeed, Mr. Zeman immediately questioned the legitimacy of the coalition government – and called for early parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, elements within his former party are also bracing themselves for trouble from the president-elect.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
While campaigning for the presidency, Miloš Zeman had promised to be “more active” than his predecessor in day-to-day politics, saying he would attend sessions of parliament and help legislators shape policy.

Nobody can have expected him, then, to be a passive head of state. However, the speed with which Mr. Zeman became involved in party politics was striking; within a few hours of victory on Saturday, he had reiterated his opposition to Petr Nečas’s weak right-of-centre coalition in a Czech Television interview.

“First, a left-wing president must be, logically, an opponent of a right-wing government… Second, in a situation in which this government only has, by all accounts, the support of eight percent of the population, and the president has been elected directly – meaning he, is as it were, the voice of the citizen – he has an even stronger mandate to criticize a government that is very, very unpopular with the public.”

Petr Nečas,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The president-elect then went on to question the very legitimacy of the Nečas government, which is in part composed of LIDEM, a breakaway group from the disgraced Public Affairs party.

“I believe that if the government is held up by a party that did not emerge from free elections and is only formed by deserters from Public Affairs, then it would be fitting if premature elections were held and only parties that received over five percent of the vote got into parliament.”

Prime Minister Nečas was quick to dismiss the future head of state’s call, describing Mr. Zeman’s opinion with regard to the government’s future as “irrelevant”. However, it would seem that a determined adversary at the Castle will only add to the embattled leader’s problems.

Meanwhile, elements within Mr. Zeman’s old party the Social Democrats are also bracing themselves for trouble. A decade ago, he was on course for victory in a parliamentary election for president, before some of the party’s legislators decided to vote against their erstwhile chief. He is regarded as having borne a deep grudge ever since.

Jiří Dienstbier,  photo: Filip Jandourek
While he has pledged not to interfere in the Social Democrats’ affairs, their own unsuccessful candidate for president, Jiří Dienstbier, likely spoke for many when he told newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes that their former leader had been attempting to break up the party for many years and would continue to do so. He will settle personal accounts, said Mr. Dienstbier.

At the same time, a sizable number of Social Democrats retain great loyalty to Mr. Zeman.

His potential impact on the party’s future could become clear in March – when he attends their annual conference a week after his inauguration.