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 Even though this government has been repealed by the parliament, the former coalition deputies were unable to form a new government and thus the Czech Republic moves to early elections at the end of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.
Four days ahead of Czech parliamentary elections, a giant middle-finger salute directed at Prague Castle – seat of the head of state – appeared on October 21. The sculpture appears a protest both at the cynicism of Czech politics, and the efforts of President Milos Zeman to leverage the disillusionment within the country to increase his power. At ten metres tall, the purple finger – mounted on a barge floating on the Vltava River which weaves through the capital – leaves little room for interpretation. Artist David Cerny refused to discuss the work, except to say that the gesture is well-known and clear. More important, he told state broadcaster CTK, is the direction in which it is facing. Zeman is not currently in the country and through a spokesperson said that he did not want to comment on something he has not seen. The election on October 25-26 follows the collapse of the previous centre-right coalition amid a corruption and spying scandal. The left-leaning Zeman, who took office in March, exploited loopholes in the constitution to install a “caretaker” government, despite objections from all the major parties. Many have likened the move to a “quiet coup” by the president.
Only a few months ago, no one would have expected that 2013 would turn out to be an election “super-year” for the Czech Republic. The first-ever presidential elections took place in January, while legislative elections were originally scheduled for the spring of 2014. But then the political scandal broke involving Prime Minister Petr Necas. The whole cabinet was forced to resign, and as it was replaced by the technocratic government of Jiri Rusnok (a man loyal to president Milos Zeman), it started to become clear that the country was heading towards a period of unusual political instability. The new cabinet failed to win a confidence vote and MPs eventually voted to dissolve the parliament, triggering early elections. Two main issues stand out in the forthcoming elections – the emergence of three to four new parties likely to win seats in the parliament, and the ambiguous role of President Milos Zeman.
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.
The first round of the Czech presidential election, which took place over the weekend, can be seen as a reflection of the tolerant and slightly tongue-in-cheek Czech temperament. In few other countries would serious contestants for the presidency include a face-tattooed composer, a bow-tie-wearing prince, and a candidate who would become the first Jewish president in the European Union. This weekend’s polls brought an unexpected twist with the success of Karel Schwarzenberg, the current foreign minister and scion of an old Bohemian family. “The Prince,” as he is often called even though aristocratic titles have been officially banned since the inception of Czechoslovakia in 1918, spent a large part of his life outside of the Czech Republic and speaks a delightfully old-fashioned version of Czech. As chairman of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Mr. Schwarzenberg was active in helping the dissident movement in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. He joined Václav Havel as his chief of staff in 1990.
Czech Republic: Ex-prime minister, foreign minister advance to presidential runoff | The Washington Post
A former leftist prime minister and the Czech Republic’s conservative foreign minister will face each other in a presidential runoff later this month after finishing Saturday as the top two candidates in the ballot’s first round. Ex-Premier Milos Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will compete in the second round of voting for the largely ceremonial post on Jan. 25-26. Czechs are electing the country’s president in a direct popular vote for the first time, to replace euroskeptic President Vaclav Klaus, whose second and final term ends March 7. Since Czechoslovakia officially split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the republic has had two presidents elected by Parliament: Vaclav Havel and Klaus. But bickering during those votes led the legislature to give that decision to the general public.
Czechs vote Friday and Saturday in their country’s first direct presidential election, with recession, austerity and graft weighing heavily on the nation as it turns the page on a decade under ardent eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus. Two ex-prime ministers, both former Communists, are tipped to finish atop a list of nine first-round candidates — including one with a fully tattooed face — and enter a second round slated for January 25-26. Although polls suggest outspoken leftist Milos Zeman is the strongest candidate to take the presidency of the European Union state of 10.5 million people, he is unlikely to score the simple majority needed to clinch a first-round victory, and will likely face mild-mannered centre-rightist Jan Fischer in the second round.
The Czech Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s first direct presidential elections may take place next week after reviewing a complaint filed by a candidate excluded from the vote. The court, based in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second- largest city, said today that the first round of elections may be held Jan. 11-12 as planned, spokeswoman Jana Pelcova said by phone today. The court earlier reviewed a complaint from Tomio Okamura, who was excluded from the vote.
For the first time since the Velvet Revolution, citizens in the Czech Republic will have the opportunity to vote directly for their head of state in two weeks. Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman is in the pole position. His tough-talking style appeals to Czechs who are tired of back room deals and a scandal-plagued leadership. Miloš Zeman has set up his campaign headquarters close to his ultimate goal: His headquarters are in an historic building in the old town, close to Prague Castle, which also serves as the Czech Republic’s presidential palace. The candidate lights one cigarette after another, now and then pouring himself a bit more Bohemian white wine from a large carafe. As the smoke wafts around him, Zeman declares, “I want to be president.”
Czechs will hold their first presidential election on January 11 and 12 to replace outgoing euroskeptic leader Vaclav Klaus, the speaker of the upper house of parliament said on Monday. Up to now, the country’s parliament has chosen the president. But the assembly agreed to hand that power over to the electorate amid calls for more open democracy, fuelled by a growing public perception of cronyism and corruption in the country’s political parties.