In June this year, the Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas resigned after it was revealed that members of his staff were involved in a possible corruption affair. He was supposed to be replaced by a new representative of the conservative coalition government and everything would continue smoothly. This would most likely have been the case, had Czechs not elected Milos Zeman as President. The former socialist premier used the limitations of the Czech constitution to his advantage and has appointed an interim government instead. Even though this government has been repealed by the parliament, the former coalition deputies were unable to form a new government and thus the Czech Republic moves to early elections at the end of October. During the 2010 parliamentary election the front-runners to lead the country were the Social Democrats (CSSD). Surprisingly, the results meant a second chance was given to the strongest centre-right party : the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), whose platform featured commitments to form a government that preached austerity; to reform key laws and finally spearhead a crackdown on corruption.
This Saturday’s election saw the victory of former PM Milos Zeman over current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. The duel between a decried populist and an old-school aristocrat revealed a division previously unseen in modern Czech society. A few days before the first round of the presidential election, Charles University sociologist Martin C. Putna described the vote as an historic event in which the Czechs are “subconsciously electing their king”. Putna claimed that this inadvertent royal tradition rests on two factors. The first is the presidential residence – Prague Castle located in the heart of the capital and situated on a minor hill overlooking the city – which has been the seat of Czech monarchs since the ninth century. The second factor is the Czech Crown Jewels, stored in the St. Vitus Cathedral inside the Prague Castle complex, the fourth oldest coronation vestments in Europe. Both the Prague Castle and the Crown Jewels are among the major symbols of contemporary Czech sovereignty, nationalism and statehood even though they are intrinsically linked to a regal tradition.
On Saturday, the Czechs elected Miloš Zeman, an architect of the democratic transition of the early 1990s, to be their new president. Although this role is mostly a symbolic one, expectations were high for a change in public policy. Are Czech voters bound to be disappointed? There were three strong personalities in the Czech politics of the 1990s: Václav Havel, the leader of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Václav Klaus, the architect of post-communist economic renewal, and Miloš Zeman, Klaus’ main critic and opponent. All of them became Czech president – the last mentioned in the historical first-ever direct presidential election this Saturday. Zeman defeated Karel Schwarzenberg (55 % to 45 % in the second round), minister of foreign affairs, nobleman, familiarly called “prince”, and a follower of Havel-style politics. Schwarzenberg, who always stressed the role of civil society, the Czech role in the promotion of human rights around the world and who held a frank view on Czech post-war history, won the support of the capital Prague and other big cities. On the other hand, Zeman, who left the Social Democrats and founded his own marginal party, attracted votes from the countryside and areas with high unemployment.
Riding a wave of popularity among youngsters wearing badges depicting him as punk rocker, blue-blooded Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg is proving a serious contender in his country’s first direct presidential election. At 75, some see him as too old for the job, yet young Czechs love him, lavishing him with more than 500,000 likes on his Facebook page, while Mr Schwarzenberg’s campaign team rewards them with rock concerts. Mr Schwarzenberg is famous for a love of good food, wine, whisky and for dozing off in public during tedious political meetings. “I fall asleep when others talk nonsense,” he once told reporters.
Czech presidential candidate Milos Zeman (Party of Citizens´ Rights, SPOZ) would support the introduction of the duty to vote while absentees would be fined some 5000 crowns, he said in a pre-election debate organised by iDnes.cz server today. He said the high absence from elections is one of the reasons of Communists (KSCM) having assumed power in some regions after last autumn´s polls. His counter-candidate, Foreign Minister and TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg said the Communists have gained some weight due to the economic crisis and the mistakes the current coalition government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) has made. “I agree with Mr Schwarzenberg that the activities of Necas´s government are naturally one of the factors behind the Communists´ election success,” former Social Democrat prime minister Zeman said. “However, another factor is the low turnout and I believe that the duty to vote would be a solution,” Zeman said.
Karel Schwarzenberg, a bow-tied 75- year-old prince whose estate includes castles and forests, is channeling the Sex Pistols in a bid to be Czech president. Schwarzenberg has emerged as the surprise challenger to ex- Premier Milos Zeman in the nation’s first direct election for president. Campaign images created by artist David Cerny, portraying the prince in a mohawk hairstyle fashioned after the U.K. punk band and screaming “Karel is Not Dead,” are appealing to voters generations younger than the candidate.