The prime minister gives the president full backing ahead of the February presidential elections

Mirek Topolanek and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

There is no love lost between Czech President Václav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, but at their traditional New Year’s lunch on Wednesday they put their differences aside and showed journalists a united front. Political analysts perceive this show of mutual support as an indication that the Civic Democrats are prepared to go to great lengths to secure President Klaus’ re-election in the February presidential elections.

Mirek Topolanek and Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
President Klaus –who founded the centre-right Civic Democratic Party – and his successor at the head of that party, Mirek Topolánek, do not always see eye to eye. But on Wednesday there was not a cloud on the horizon as the prime minister praised the president’s New Year’s address and the president expressed satisfaction with the government’s reform plans. Responding to a question from the press about the upcoming presidential elections the prime minister said “our goal is clear: securing Václav Klaus’ re-election, our strategy I will not disclose”.

However journalists used to reading between the lines were not disappointed. For, minutes later, Prime Minister Topolánek unexpectedly announced that he might accept Christian Democrat leader Jiři Čunek’s return to the Cabinet. Mr. Čunek was forced to resign over corruption allegations late last year and his party has been pushing for him to be able to return. Only a few weeks ago the prime minister said this was premature. Now he indicated that everything was possible.

“The pressure on me from the Christian Democratic Party is immense – if it mounts I may well give in and take Jiri Čunek back in order to keep the peace within the coalition” the prime minister said at Wednesday’s press briefing.

Jiri Cunek
The significance of this statement was not lost on the press – nor on the leader of the Green Party Martin Bursík – who reacted with hostility, warning the prime minister against a Klaus-Čunek trade-off with the Christian Democrats. When Mr. Čunek recently announced that he wanted to make a come-back to high level politics all the Green ministers in government threatened to quit. Obviously, the prime minister knows that taking Mr. Čunek back would not “keep the peace within the coalition” as he told journalists. And his thinly veiled message caused a stir among commentators who are now speculating on just how far the prime minister is willing to go to secure the president’s re-election.

The president will be elected on February 8, by both houses of Parliament in a secret ballot. Václav Klaus’ only rival for the post is economist Jan Švejnar, who lives alternately in the Czech Republic and the United States and is preparing to tour the country in an American-style election campaign.