Public confidence in president hits record low

Václav Klaus, foto: ČTK

Public confidence in the country’s president, Václav Klaus, has fallen to an all-time low, according to a new poll conducted by the STEM agency. The results, reported on Wednesday, show the president’s numbers as dropping to 47 percent, down from last December when the they stood at 63. The drop, say political analysts, is likely to be related the president’s role in the recent government crisis but also other notable factors, including remarks by a key aide on the death of Osama Bin Laden, and even a comic ‘pen stealing’ incident in Chile that became a hit on you.tube.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
A little earlier, I spoke to political scientist Zdeněk Zbořil: he says it is primarily Mr Klaus’ ties to the crisis-torn government which have brought public confidence in him down.

“First of all he helped to create this government: the Civic Democrats (ODS) didn’t win the last general election, the winner was the Social Democratic party and it is a custom and rule that the winner should get the first chance to form the government. But they didn’t get the opportunity, Mr Klaus skipped it. So this coalition was put together – with a not altogether clear political programme – and Mr Klaus bears some responsibility for that.”

Other observers in the Czech mainstream media attribute the apparent damage to the president’s image in greater measure to other factors, including a recent incident in which a key long-time aide, Petr Hájek, made controversial comments after it was announced Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US forces, effectively saying the world’s most wanted terrorist was a ‘media invention’ (Mr Hájek has also suggested in the past that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the United States itself). His words on Bin Laden were seen as highly inappropriate and he was sharply criticised by the foreign minister as well as eventually admonished by the president. Political analyst Zdeněk Zbořil again:

“The intellectual capacity of his collaborators is under question: Mr Hájek already formulated his approach in a book two years ago, where he commented on 9/11 and the media picture of it. But he forgets that he is no longer an independent intellectual – such as when he was an active journalist and commentator – and that he is now an institution. As vice chancellor he has certain responsibility to the head of state.”

Final factors that may have contributed the recent drop in the president’s numbers might also be tied to the president’s own politics, say Zdeněk Zbořil, critical as he is of NGOs, environmentalism and global warming. Even something as unusual as a comic ‘pen stealing’ incident reported by Czech TV may have hurt, a clip showing the president discreetly pocketing a ceremonial pen during a speech by his counterpart in Chile. The clip became a youtube hit. In Mr Klaus’s defence, Zdeněk Zbořil says in the media he often doesn’t get a fair shake.

Václav Klaus' ‘pen stealing’ in Chile, photo: Czech Television
“Mr Klaus has very low popularity among prominent Czech mass media. He is sometimes very brutally attacked on Czech TV’s ‘24’ channel. They sent back only a single report during the president’s trip to Chile, the famous pen incident, and that was it.”

Pundits point out that Mr Klaus has only two years to go before his final term ends so he may not be overly worried with public surveys. On the other hand, after Mr Klaus steps down he has already made clear that he intends to remain active in public life.