President’s popularity fails to translate into major boost for his party

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

President Miloš Zeman continues to dominate approval ratings of Czech politicians. A recent poll by the CVVM agency has found that 48 percent of Czechs trust the president, down somewhat from the agency’s previous survey but still ahead of Senator Tomio Okamura in second place. However, Mr Zeman’s and Mr Okamura’s parties – the Citizens’ Rights Party and Dawn, respectively – fare much worse in election surveys. But why is the president so popular? That’s a question I put to commentator Erik Best.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“There was a slight dip in his popularity compared to some other polls where he got 53 percent, this time it was 48 percent. So it does show perhaps that a few have been affected by internal problems at his party he’s the honorary chairman of. But in general, these are people willing to stand by him no matter what.”

So you think that for them, a breakaway from the policies of the previous centre-right government is more important than respect to the principles of parliamentary democracy which some say are threatened by the president’s actions?

“Absolutely. I think he wins a lot of points from these people every time he says, ‘Look, I promised to get rid of the old government, and I did it, I promised to get rid of the finance minister, and I did it, and we are going to continue along these lines.’ I think it’s mainly Prague intellectuals who are looking at the question whether the president’s is perhaps overstepping the boundaries of the Constitution.”

Tomio Okamura,  photo: Filip Jandourek
While Miloš Zeman and Tomio Okamura top the popularity polls but interestingly, their own parties – Mr Zeman’s Citizens’ Rights Party and the Dawn of Direct Democracy of Mr Okamura – don’t seem to do that well in election surveys. Most of them predict they might not receive the five percent of the vote needed to enter the lower house. Why do you think their leaders’ popularity does not translate into support of the parties?

“I think there are a number of reasons. One of them is that someone who’s a good film actor doesn’t necessarily make a good director. In the case of Mr Zeman and Mr Okamura, they might be popular but that doesn’t mean they are good at running their parties.

“You have a tremendous number of people who support Mr Zeman thick and thin but at the same time are very staunch supporters of the Social Democrats. I think the trick to the success of the Zeman party – and I don’t believe they’ll be able to do it – is to convince more of these Social Democrat supporters to come over. They haven’t been able to do that and the behaviour of the president tends to confirm this. They like the president but are not particularly enthusiastic about his party.

“The case of Mr Okamura is very much one where people like some of his ideas but they don’t see it being translated into a party that has a long life ahead of it.”