Watchdog monitors uneven openness in Czech presidential campaign

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

The first stage of the Czech presidential elections is reaching its climax with voting taking place this Friday and Saturday. The nine candidates seeking to become head of state will be trying to get their final messages through in the next days and that’s likely to mean a rush to the campaign coffers where some are, apparently, more equal and open to scrutiny than others.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
It’s the second direct Czech presidential elections with nationwide campaigns in swing from the nine candidates. And, like the first time round five years ago, there are clear rules about financing the campaigns and declaring sponsors and spending. There’s a 40 million crown spending limit over the two rounds and candidates must keep transparent accounts.

Anti-corruption watchdog and good government promoter, Transparency International, has been monitoring the individual campaigns so far. Director of the Czech branch, David Ondráčka, on Monday released some of the results, saying that the intention is to give voters a heads up about spending and openness. He highlighted the trends of some of the biggest spenders, including current president, Miloš Zeman, who is seeking a second term in office:

ʺOverall spending, in our estimate, makes up around 200 million Czech crowns, which is quite a hefty sum for a relatively short campaign.

Jiří Drahoš,  photo: CTK
"In terms of individual candidates, we basically provide individual assessments of each of them. [Miloš] Zeman has the least transparent campaign, and it is basically not providing any information. He is organising his campaign through an external entity which does not provide any information about their sponsors and expenditures. That’s the worst case of opacity that can be imagined.

"Other candidates, let’s take Mr. [Jiří] Drahoš, second in the polls at the moment, has the most sponsors from the corporate sector and large business, even such companies which are related to such controversial things like Mostecká Uhelná, Škoda Transportation and some developers. However, he’s providing information and it seems that he is taking some steps towards transparency.

"Mr. [Michal] Horaček, he’s special because he’s basically self- financing his campaign and he’s not collecting any sponsorship from outside. The issue is that he is also financing his campaign through an external subject which has a transparent account but it is published only every month so you don’t necessarily get fully updated and quick data.

"And last, Mirek Topolánek, he’s very much sponsored by large companies and certain influential individuals."

Ondráčka adds that the spending of the former Civic Democrat prime minister is not that transparent either.

David Ondráčka,  photo: Karolína Koubová
The head of the watchdog says some candidates have spent very little at all, such as Jiří Hynek, Marek Hilšer, and Petr Hannig. Also standing are Vratislav Kulhánek and Pavel Fischer. The assessments can be seen on Transparency International’s Czech website.

The structure of the campaigns are not so exceptional so far with posters, meetings, and, ever increasingly, social media playing a major role.

The president could be elected this week if one candidate lands more than 50 percent of the votes. If not, the first and second most popular will face off in a second round two weeks later.