Will Social Democrats try to push back presidential election?

Jiri Paroubek and Miloslav Vlcek, photo: CTK

Next year will see presidential elections in the Czech Republic: at the moment it is not clear how many candidates will challenge incumbent president Vaclav Klaus, who has already announced he will be seeking a second term. Recent months have seen a number of possible rivals mentioned, but as yet none have officially tossed their hat in the ring.

Jiri Paroubek and Miloslav Vlcek, photo: CTK
That's not altogether surprising, given that any successful run will require broad support across the political spectrum: in that respect, Mr Klaus is widely-considered a tough opponent to beat. Even the country's opposition Social Democrats - intent on fielding a candidate - have not made up their minds on a candidate.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a strategy, at least of sorts. The Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny reported on Tuesday that the Social Democrats - including former health minister David Rath and the party's chairman, Jiri Paroubek - were weighing a plan to, at the very least, get under the president's collar. How? By pushing for later elections than the currently agreed February 7th, 2008, the earliest possible date under the constitution. If the elections were pushed back by weeks Mr Klaus could theoretically be "humbled" by having to move out of his office at Prague Castle, losing access to PR specialists and the press office. Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek, quoted in Lidove Noviny, suggested it would be fair and honourable for candidates, including Mr Klaus, to compete on the same terms. At the same time, the party leader denied any malicious intent. Civic Democrat Premysl Sobotka - the chairman of the senate takes this view on the move.

"To me it seems like they are behaving a bit like little boys whose marbles were stolen, but on a more serious note I think it is a bit destabilising to democracy and democratic values in the Czech Republic. If the intent is try and 'humiliate' the president, then that's very embarrassing. In my opinion, you don't have to like someone but you should respect for democratic parameters and values, including the post of the president."

Premysl Sobotka points out even if the election were pushed back, it would not succeed in "humbling" anyone, as even former president Vaclav Havel moved his things from the Castle over "several weeks". Another "wrench" in any plan to push the presidential election back is namely that the date in early February has already been agreed on after meetings by the president with the head of the senate as well as the chairman of the lower house, Miloslav Vlcek. Mr Vlcek, a Social Democrat, has said he would be willing to hear arguments from fellow party member David Rath, but stressed he would call the election as early as possible, as agreed. Senate chairman Premysl Sobotka once again:

"Even though we're from different parties, the chairman of the lower house Miloslav Vlcek is very professional and until now he always kept his end of agreements. I can say that during my time in the senate, cooperation with him is the best I've seen. I am certain he will keep his word on calling the election for February 7th or 8th."