Presidential Elections in the Czech Republic

The election result in favor of Milos Zeman (55:45 %) gives a certain advantage to the Left. But we cannot expect major changes in the conditions for enforcing leftist concepts.

After elections the ruling right-wing coalition has already expressed that it is bent on ruling until the regular elections (2014), albeit with a majority of 1-2 deputies in our parliament. The tension in society, which was mounting last week, has not been diminishing so far. The defeated candidate, Karel Schwarzenberg, came second in all 13 regions, he won only in Prague (with 66 %!).
Voter turnout in the previous round was 61 % (comparable to a parliamentary election) and 59% in the second one.
Milos Zeman represents a pro-European political power; so the Czech position in the EU could be better in future. It can be assumed that he will play an active role in the foreign policy arena, but not significantly focused primarily on German-speaking countries. It will rather be a policy of more azimuths (incl. Russia, China and other countries, mainly with economic importance for our republic). He identifies himself as a Euro-realist. Zeman is an economist who prefers pro-growth measures against dull savings and austerity measures. This orientation will come into conflict with the current Czech government. But problems of the current crisis were not the central theme of the final presidential campaign. However, it appeared that the leftist candidate reached better results mainly in regions with higher unemployment or with a worse social situation. The Czech neoliberals expect more complications in the realisation of the European neo-liberal concept. Supporters of leftist solutions of the crisis hope for these complications.

Pre-election phase

Electors sent two candidates to the second round of the first direct Czech presidential election. The first one, Milos Zeman, expected that his fight would continue in the second round as results of different polls before election had always seen him in that round. The second candidate, Karel Schwarzenberg, started from the rear position (according to previous polls) but finally fell only 2% behind the leader.
In the weeks before the second round the propaganda battle has been culminating with both candidates mobilizing all their supporters and their own endeavor to obtain on their side voters of unsuccessful candidates from the first round.
But matters which have been presented seemed to be less important for the future of the Czech state as the past of these men, their skills, their styles of communication etc. Discussions or comments of journalists and bloggers but also the candidates themselves have ignored most of present significant problems and the ways of possible solutions – the economic and social crisis, increase of social tensions and of distrust in democratic mechanisms. And the analysis of relevant powers which candidates represent or of interests they defend has also been considerably less frequent.

Leftwing Zeman, Rightwing Schwarzenberg?

I am not sure that there is a big difference between both finalists. Mass media tried to show this election confrontation nearly in black-white images. But it is not a reality. It is true that representatives of the Czech concept of neoliberal restructuring of society – such as the candidate of the ODS (leading right party for years), P. Sobotka, or J. Fischer (former prime minister in the caretaker government in 2010) – did not go up. The candidate of the ODS was on last but one place. The present president Vaclav Klaus said quite openly, that the Czech Right has suffered a heavy defeat, one of the biggest in last years. Czech social democrats also failed as their candidate Jiri Dienstbier was on the fourth place and the party itself was split and a certain part of its members and supporters probably voted for Milos Zeman. The Czech radical Left (mainly represented in elections by a communist party and its candidates) did not nominate its own candidate. It was declared that that could lead to a weakening of the Left.
Now Zeman has been considered to be the representative of the Left and Schwarzenberg has been presented as belonging to the Right. But Zeman is rather a social liberal close to social democrats (a “Blair type”). Schwarzenberg belongs to cosmopolitan Europeans rather than he is the leader of a local right-wing conservative party (whose chairman he actually is). He is connected with international, global forces which is due to his personal background (member of the historical Austrian nobility and during state socialism living abroad former Czechoslovakia). He worked with Vaclav Havel in his dissent period and later during his presidency (in his office). Subsequently he was nominated as a candidate for the Minister of Foreign Affairs – firstly by the Greens and now as a leader of one of the coalition parties. Therefore it has been hard for him to distance himself from the current government’s unpopularity but nevertheless his electoral gain was unexpected (especially in comparison with the candidate of the still leading right party ODS). Karel Schwarzenberg recently received much support from various groups such as VIPs of the cultural or sports sphere and of most of the major media. Milos Zeman emphasized national interests more than his opponent and is rather trying to respond to the views of “ordinary people”. Surely there is Left-Right polarization, but not significantly dominant even though the media have been promoting it as such.

Neoliberal orientation remains

Nevertheless the presidential election cannot change the neoliberal direction of the government and the ruling elites at least until the next regular (in 2015) or extraordinary elections. Both candidates have been representatives of forces more or less advocating the European neoliberal model and its solution of the crisis. However Milos Zeman has been much more acceptable for the left-leaning voters but some of them voted for him only hesitatingly. The alternative Karel Schwarzenberg seemed to be the worse option for the Left, both strategically and in the short term, too.