Why is Schwarzenberg, 77, hanging on as leader of TOP 09?

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: Filip Jandourek

TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg has somewhat disappeared from public view in recent times. Despite this, and the fact he is now 77, he says he still wants to lead the right-wing party into the next general elections, scheduled for 2017. But what is behind Mr. Schwarzenberg’s desire to carry on?

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: Filip Jandourek
There has been speculation recently that Karel Schwarzenberg is planning to step down as chairman of TOP 09, six years after he established the conservative party.

However in a now rare public appearance he told Czech Television on Tuesday that he aims to remain at the helm for the foreseeable future.

“God willing, and if I stay healthy, I want and plan to enter the campaigns both for the regional elections and the elections to the Chamber of Deputies… It’s quite amusing to read reports about your own funeral when you don’t even have a head-cold. So what can I do?”

But given his age and seeming withdrawal from the public eye, why is Mr. Schwarzenberg staying on as TOP 09 chief? That’s a question I discussed with political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“I think Mr. Schwarzenberg’s desire to stay on as the leader of TOP 09 is in some ways another piece of evidence that this party – very small and in some ways very elite, because it has just a few thousand members and they mainly come from Prague – is having problems finding a new leader.

“Schwarzenberg will probably stay on as the leader simply because they have no-one to replace him with. And although he will not be doing much for the party in practical terms his name is still important – until the party generates someone who can replace him.”

What about Miroslav Kalousek – isn’t he the obvious choice to replace him? I know he’s divisive but he is the party number two and many people consider him to be in effect the real leader.

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: Filip Jandourek
“Miroslav Kalousek is of course a very skilled politician – probably the best politician in the Czech Republic if we were to judge him only on his political skills and ability to talk to the media, and so on.

“But at the same time he is very controversial. Everyone knows that if he becomes the leader of TOP 09 it will give this party a completely new image. It will become much more combative. It will be seen as possibly tied to corruption, because Mr. Kalousek has for years been surrounded by speculation about corrupt behaviour.

“Despite the fact that it may not be true, it would influence the image of the party.

“So the party knows that it has a very skilled politician in Mr. Kalousek, but at the same time a politician who certainly doesn’t have the same image that can draw what is called in the Czech Republic is known as Prague café circles to the party. And that is a real problem for TOP 09.”