Will Vaclav Klaus get a serious rival in next year's presidential elections?

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Who will be the country's next president? With elections due in February of next year the faces of possible rivals are filling front pages. Potential candidates include a former foreign minister, an economist and an academic. But do any of them really stand a chance against the incumbent president, Vaclav Klaus, who is running for re-election?

The Czech media have dubbed it the search for "anti-Klaus" - a phrase coined after opposition parties said they wanted someone quite different: apolitical, someone they see as less "arrogant" and less inclined to meddle in affairs of state. But finding an alternative to Vaclav Klaus is not proving easy.

In the Czech Republic the president is elected by Parliament and currently no party is strong enough to push through its own nominee. The ruling Civic Democrats have promised to support Mr Klaus but even so he will still be short of 19 votes to get re-elected. The governing coalition as a whole would be strong enough to push him through, but the two smaller parties in government - the Christian Democrats and the Greens - say they would like to see someone else in the post. In order for such a candidate to stand any chance at all they have had to enter into talks with the opposition parties in search of a candidate who would be acceptable across the political spectrum. Of the many names floated so far, four remain in the game. Two of them are politicians, Jiri Dienstbier and Petr Pithart, one is economist Jan Svejnar and the last is academic Vaclav Paces. Political analyst Vladimira Dvorakova says that while the opposition and the Greens may really want someone else in the post, she doubts the commitment of the Christian Democrats:

"In fact any of the four people named could have a chance but I am not really sure whether all the parties involved are serious about finding a strong rival. It seems to me that the Christian Democrats are really not seriously looking for someone other than Mr. Klaus. They are open to negotiations but I think that at the end of the day they will support Vaclav Klaus."

So at the last minute they could drive a hard bargain and gain something by supporting him?

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
"Yes, they could bargain. And one should also keep in mind that when Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek was being investigated for corruption Vaclav Klaus gave him public support. This is also important."

The Christian Democrats are expected to be the king-maker in this political game and party leader Jiri Cunek is certainly making the most of it. He said on Monday that the party was still uncertain about who to support. None of the four potential rivals was considered a particular favorite, someone might appear "out of the blue", and if no strong candidate emerged Vaclav Klaus was still "in the game", Mr Cunek said. This shilly-shallying has angered some Civic Democrats who are demanding that the prime minister should "bring the smaller coalition parties to heel" and remind them of the advantages they have gained by being in the governing coalition. However, as there was no coalition deal regarding support for a joint candidate, the smaller coalition parties are free to play the field, leaving both the Civic Democrats and Vaclav Klaus in uncertainty up until the last moment. The horse-trading is likely to continue for the next few months and will be all the more intense for the fact that the presidential election takes place by secret ballot.