Presidential campaign heats up

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

With less than a week before the two houses of Parliament meet to elect a new Czech president, the campaign by the incumbent Václav Klaus and his challenger, Jan Švejnar, is heating up. On Friday Jan Švejnar went public about his father’s 1961 vow of collaboration with the communist police; two days later, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek cast doubt on the funding of Mr. Svejnar’s election campaign.

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
In a televised debate on Sunday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek accused the challenging presidential candidate Jan Švejnar of being backed by a group of what he calls “pro-corruption politicians” who are on the wrong side of a pending mutual lawsuit between the Czech Republic and the country’s largest bank ČSOB. Mr Topolánek said that Jan Švejnar’s campaign had big corruption potential, and suggested that Mr Švejnar must have spent much more on his campaign than the officially declared half a million crowns.

“My accusation is based on the ongoing lawsuit with ČSOB and it involves politicians from other parties than the Social Democrats. I have to say the corruption potential is there – the campaign certainly did not cost 500,000 crowns; perhaps it was euros.”

Jan Švejnar headed the ČSOB’s board of supervisors from 2003 until last November when he froze all his activities in the bank which has been engaged in a legal conflict with the state since June 2007. Mr Topolánek suggested on Sunday that ČSOB might have covered some of Jan Švejnar’s campaign expenses. Michael Kraus is on Jan Švejnar’s election team.

Jan Švejnar,  photo: CTK
“Jan Švejnar responded on Sunday by saying that these are baseless allegations. He provided an account of his own expenses, of the funding of his own campaign. He asked for evidence to support these accusations, which Mr Topolánek clearly cannot produce, and in that case he wants an apology. The timing is such that it seems like a desperate smear campaign by the head of the Civic Democrats who is under pressure to deliver a victory for Václav Klaus.”

When asked to substantiate his charges against Jan Švejnar by the TV show host, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said it was not his duty to explain further or provide any evidence. Jan Švejnar, who was not present at the debate, later countered by pointing out that the incumbent Václav Klaus is using presidential funds in his re-election campaign. Michael Kraus again.

“He called upon Václav Klaus who is apparently campaigning at public expense, using taxpayers’ money, to provide an account of his spending.”

While analysts question the impact of such public-oriented campaigns on a closed vote by MPs and Senators, Sunday’s clash was in the spirit of an ever-more agitated struggle between the two presidential candidates striving to win support from undecided electors whose votes might prove decisive in Friday’s presidential election.