Social Democrats' presidential candidate referendum: too much democracy?

Social Democrats' presidential candidate referendum, photo: CTK

Is there a chance that a new president will be elected in the first attempt or would a election be necessary? For an analysis of possible scenarios Daniela Lazarova spoke to Vladimira Dvorakova, a political analyst at the Prague School of Economics:

Social Democrats' presidential candidate referendum,  photo: CTK
"At this point it is very difficult to say what will happen. Probably the Social Democratic Party stands the best chance of pushing its candidate through. However the party is split over who should be the next president and now, after the referendum, the party has a problem deciding who should be their candidate. Because in addition to respecting public opinion they need to run a candidate who is acceptable for the other political parties. It is necessary to find consensus because no single party is strong enough to push through its candidate unaided."

Well, it seems that the Social Democrats have got themselves into a bind by holding this referendum in the first place. Why did they call a referendum if they now have a problem respecting its outcome?

"They wanted to show how democratic the party is. That it wants to consult this matter with the public when, under the circumstances, it is not possible to organize direct presidential elections because that would mean changing the Constitution. However the problem was the low participation of the public in this referendum and a result that was a surprise for the Social Democrats."

So what can the Social Democrats do at this point?

"They will probably have to accept the result of this referendum and the problem is that Milos Zeman who is the winning candidate has declared that he does not want to take part in the first round of elections, where the probability of someone getting elected is low, and that he would only run in the second round."

Is that a back door for the Social Democrats. Can they wriggle out of that commitment and say - in that case - we will run someone else?

"They may decide to run someone else in the first round and if they accept the results of the referendum it would have to be Mr. Bures. The problem is that Mr. Bures is not acceptable for any other party but there is the possibility that the other political parties will find some other solution and leave the Social Democrats out in the cold. It is very difficult to predict what will now happen among the other political parties."

What about the Ombudsman Mr. Otakar Motejl?

"Mr. Motejl would be acceptable for many parties and even independent senators. But he only ended up third in the referendum. The Social Democrats called the referendum believing that Zeman would be first, Motejl second and with Zeman out of the first round the way would be clear for a broad political concession on Mr. Motejl. But the referendum turned out differently and since he came in third it would now be very, very difficult to nominate him for the first round."

Can Mr. Spidla afford to run that risk politically?

"I think that he cannot afford to do that. It would depend on the kind of support he has within his own party and it seems that the support for him personally is not so strong."

There has been plenty of wild speculation about what is going on behind the scenes. There is even a theory according to which the pro-Zeman faction wants Milos Zeman in the presidential post so that he can bring down this government and try to set up a grand coalition between the Social and Civic Democrats. To what extent can the president influence the political set up? Could he really bring down the government?

"It is not easy to do that directly. It cannot happen that Mr. Zeman would be elected president and he would immediately dismiss the Cabinet. On the other hand with his influence, in the post of president, he could somehow support some internal crisis within the coalition and the party itself that would lead to Mr. Spidla resigning and then there would be a debate on a new coalition and in this debate the president could play an important role."