President Zeman rules out early elections in Christmas message to nation

Miloš Zeman, photo: ČTK

In his Christmas message to the nation, President Miloš Zeman highlighted the country’s economic successes, telling Czechs they had much to be proud of. As regards the country’s political future, Miloš Zeman ruled out early elections, telling politicians they would have to play the cards they had been dealt in the elections.

President Zeman opened his Christmas message to the nation on a morale-boosting note, telling Czechs they had plenty to be proud of.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK
“The Czech Republic is the sixth safest nation in the world, which is better than Switzerland even, we have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and the lowest level of deprivation. Our economic growth is among the highest and our indebtedness one of the lowest in Europe. We have every reason to be a proud and self-confident nation which values its achievements.”

On a more critical note, the president said there were areas in need of improvement, such as boosting investments, reducing social benefits to those who refused to work and cutting the number of civil servants, which the president said would resolve the lack of workers in the other fields of the economy.

As regards the political situation, the head of state confirmed his continuing support for ANO leader Andrej Babiš, who has been unable to find backing for his minority government in the lower house ahead of a confidence vote on January 10th. President Zeman criticized the other parliamentary parties for “lack of initiative in negotiations” which would have opened the door to a compromise solution. He told them he would never call early elections –since that would be a mark of disrespect for voters – and stressed that they would have to play the cards they had been dealt in the elections.

“If the prime minister’s first attempt at forming a government fails, I will give him and his political opponents more time and space to reach agreement on a government that will prove viable. I think a second attempt, which I envisage sometime in February, may prove successful.”

The president’s message elicited mixed reactions from Czech politicians. Prime Minister Babiš described the address as “positive and constructive”. The Communists and the anti-immigration Party of Freedom and Direct Democracy hailed the patriotic message it contained as well as criticism of the EU’s migration policy and the president’s urging for the Czech Republic to be more self-confident in defence of its convictions in the EU and NATO.

Reactions from the other parties in the lower house ranged from “predictable” to “biased”. Even in his Christmas message Zeman was not able to resist supporting Babiš and attacking his rivals, TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil noted. Civic Democrat deputy chair Martin Kupka slammed the speech as hypocritical.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek

“It was the president himself who created conditions for Andrej Babiš not to have to negotiate very hard for a majority government. He has held that line all along. The post-election environment that he and Babiš created was not conducive to negotiations.”

This sentiment was echoed by the president’s chief rival for the top post in the January presidential elections. The former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences Jiří Drahoš said Zeman’s speech had shown all too clearly what kind of administration the incumbent president favoured –not a strong and stable government, but a minority government supported by extremists.