Will Václav Klaus leave the party he helped to create?

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

Speculation is mounting that the Czech president and honorary chairman of the Civic Democrats may be about to turn his back on the party he once helped to create. The Civic Democrat-led government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, is set to ratify the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, a document that consolidates the EU. This, along with other official government positions, is opposed by the Czech president. Now, it seems, he may have had enough.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
The Czech president has been at the centre of the country’s political establishment since the Velvet Revolution – and that is doubly true in the case of the Civic Democrat party, which he founded in 1991 during the splintering of the Civic Forum, the anti-communist political movement that emerged during 1989. Mr Klaus served as prime minister from 1992-97 – a period marked both by economic growth, and a growth in corruption scandals. Following that, Mr Klaus retained much influence during the period of the “opposition agreement”, which enabled the opposition Social Democrats to govern between 1998 and 2002. Since 2003, Mr Klaus has served as president, retaining his title as honorary chairman of the Civic Democrats. Yet, his increasingly strong views on issues ranging from global warming to European integration have put him more and more at odds with his party, while the strains of his formal role as an apolitical head of state are becoming increasingly apparent.

Political commentator Bořivoj Hnízdo believes that should Mr Klaus decide to formally abandon the party, the consequences for the Civic Democrats would be minimal:

Bořivoj Hnízdo
“At the moment, the Civic Democrats can do quite well without Václav Klaus. It is no longer a Klaus party, which was true back in the 1990s, but not in this decade.”

Rumours have also begun to circulate that a new pro-Klaus political party may be formed in the near future – something akin to Veritas, or the UK Independence Party, two British parties with strong anti-EU sentiments. The party is reportedly considering calling itself Libertas.cz, after the Irish anti-EU lobby group headed by the UK-born arms contractor Declan Ganley, with whom Mr Klaus recently met, much to the chagrin of the Irish government.

Meanwhile, Mr Klaus’s son Václav has formally announced his departure from the Civic Democrats, only heightening speculation about his father, who has not denied rumours that he too will leave the fold. So what would the chances be for such a party in the Czech Republic? Bořivoj Hnízdo believes that there is a chance for one simple reason:

Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
“I can see some possibilities, particularly because the Civic Democrats won’t be very critical this spring because of the EU presidency held by the Czech Republic, and they are the main governmental party. So, there is some room for a Eurosceptic political party to be successful in the Czech Republic in elections to the European Parliament.”

And what about the wider prospects for such a party?

“If Klaus will be active in founding a new Eurosceptic party, he or the party can be successful in elections to the European Parliament, but I have doubts if such a party could be successful in domestic elections to the lower house of Parliament, for example. We have seen this example: in 2004, there were the European Democrats who were surprisingly successful in European elections, they had the third largest share of the vote, but they have not been successful on the domestic political scene.”

Whatever one’s views of the Czech president, it seems likely that he does not intend to simply fade from the Czech political scene any time soon.