Presidential challenger unnerves ruling party ahead of elections

Jan Švejnar, photo: CTK

The Czech presidential election is just days away and there’s no question that tensions are on the rise between those backing incumbent Václav Klaus and those backing his challenger, Jan Švejnar. In the latest twist in the run-up, Jan Švejnar has made new claims he has secured votes from some Civic Democrat lawmakers – traditionally loyal to Mr Klaus. The claims have fuelled speculation over both men’s chances – including the possibility of a Klaus upset.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Although Jan Švejnar did not give any details, his statements have apparently caused consternation among many in the party, particularly as it has officially pledged its 81 Deputies and 41 Senators to the incumbent president Václav Klaus. As a result of these claims, speculation is rife within the ruling party regarding potential traitors who have apparently turned their backs on the incumbent president. In a television interview President Klaus said that he expects his party to remain “strong and united” but he did not rule out having made enemies in his own camp.

“You know 120 people are a 120 people and I may have stepped on someone’s toes in the past, there may be people in the party who bear a grudge.”

Although bookmakers are putting their money on Vaclav Klaus winning a second term in office political analyst Jan Urban says Mr. Klaus has reason to fear opponents within his own party.

“We know for sure there is great discontent within the ruling Civic Democratic Party with President Klaus’ performance. And his influence over the party that links it to the not overtly successful of the Czech Republic in the 90s.”

“Do you think the Civic Democrats will actually stay united in their support of Klaus?”

“This is unclear. What surprises everybody is the level of nervosity that is shown by different factions of the Civic Democratic Party, which would suggest that more than an average number of sceptics within the party is open to surprises.”

“And what specific reasons would Civic Democrats have for not voting for Klaus?”

“Just to send him into political retirement because Klaus is not really prepared to give any new themes – his leadership is based only on the past and he is limiting the manoeuvring space for the party both domestically, but more importantly internationally.”

Despite the criticism many Civic Democrats maintain that Vaclav Klaus is far and away the better candidate and party leader and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has linked his political future to Mr. Klaus’ re-election saying that the government could fall if the party fails to push through its own candidate. Most analysts believe that of the two candidates, it will be Jan Švejnar who will face the greatest difficulties in securing a majority of the vote.

Jan Švejnar, photo: CTK
Nonetheless, the growing tension within the Civic Democratic Party underlines the fact that the US-based economist has managed to successfully transform himself from unknown outsider, to genuine contender. Meanwhile, the climate of paranoia and mudslinging that has underlined these elections, has led many MPs to seek a way of verifying which MP will vote for which candidate in the hitherto secret presidential ballot. Ideas that have been proposed include voting in pairs, or even MPs taking snapshots of their ballots with their mobile phones in attempt to prove that they did not break with party lines. Indeed, disagreements over how to conduct the poll may cause significant delays in the presidential vote. Proponents of a direct vote will no doubt relish any further debacles in this election process.