Second presidential election taking place this Friday after bitterly-fought first vote fails to produce result

Photo: CTK

A protracted and bitterly-fought first attempt to choose a new Czech president ended in failure on Saturday afternoon. Václav Klaus, just one vote short of re-election, remains the favourite, while his challenger Jan Švejnar will also throw his hat into the ring again. A third, Communist-backed nominee is also a possibility, though a great deal remains unclear ahead of next Friday’s second presidential election.

Vlastimil Tlustý (middle), photo: CTK
Deputy Vlastimil Tlustý summed up the mood in the Civic Democrats after Saturday’s first attempt to elect a president failed to produce a result.

“My first reaction? It’s a shame…we didn’t expect such a…I don’t know what to call it… procedure, a terrible two days, no result and it doesn’t look well.”

Things were looking relatively well, though, for the backers of the other candidate for president, Jan Švejnar. Their chances had risen when a show of hands was pushed through after a long and stormy debate on Friday, replacing the traditional secret ballot.

Here’s Ondřej Liška of the Green Party, who nominated the challenger.

Mirek Topolánek and Ondřej Liška, photo: CTK
“I think the outcome shows that Mr Švejnar has been able to find much broader support than the [Civic Democrats] and Mr Klaus ever expected. We will see what a second and maybe third election will show, but for now it’s moral defeat for Mr Klaus and a moral victory for Professor Švejnar. But the [eventual] outcome might be the other way round, that’s clear.”

Talk of moral victories may seem somewhat inappropriate, however, given the vicious accusations bandied about as the tension rose and tempers flared. The Social Democrats, also backing Jan Švejnar, accused the Civic Democrats of trying to pressure individual parliamentarians into backing Mr Klaus in the third and final round. That allegation was angrily denied.

In any case, the vote was affected by the absence of three lawmakers on Saturday: two were brought to hospital when they were taken ill, one after allegedly being threatened in a Prague Castle toilet. The third stayed at home in protest at the vote being public.

The outcome of the first election is being seen as a victory for the opposition Communists, whose abstention effectively blocked the third round. That has strengthened their bargaining position.

Jan Švejnar and David Rath, photo: CTK
The Social Democrats, whose main aim is to prevent Václav Klaus’s re-election, also have reasons to be cheerful. I asked the party’s David Rath if he regarded the vote as a success.

“This one yes, because our candidate Professor Švejnar had a lower chance than President Klaus, and now it’s the same result. I think for us it’s a good chance for the future.”

Will you again back Mr Švejnar as your candidate, or will you find somebody new?

“I think, and it’s my personal opinion, that we will continue with Professor Švejnar.”

Where will you get the votes?

“(laughs) It’s a good question! We must start new negotiations among the political parties.”

Jan Švejnar, photo: CTK
What about the incredible arguing and accusations of all kinds of dirty tricks – will that have poisoned the atmosphere among the parties?

“I think the atmosphere among the parties will be at freezing point. The situation is very dangerous - it’s something like a battle, or war.”

If the Social Democrats are to see Jan Švejnar installed at Prague Castle they will have to strike a deal with the Communist Party. However, the latter floated several possible nominees of their own on Sunday; only one, MEP Jana Bobošíková, has actually agreed to stand.

The deadline for nominations is midnight on Tuesday. If by then a Communist candidate has officially been declared, that will only be good news for the Civic Democrats, says political commentator Petr Just.

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
“If there are three candidates – Václav Klaus, Jan Švejnar and somebody else – then I think Václav Klaus’s chances increase, because two candidates from the anti-Klaus group would split the votes of the anti-Klaus members of Parliament. Therefore he would have a much higher chance of going forward to the second and third round by himself, without a challenger in the second or third round.”

Mr Klaus remains the favourite, especially if his party’s negotiators can win over some of the Christian Democrat senators and deputies who didn’t back their man at the weekend.

But the parties are still arguing about how to conduct the election, and another debate on procedure could well precede a second attempt to elect a new Czech president this coming Friday. Few would dare predict the outcome.