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The awkward squad

17.01.2013 / 03:15 CET
Czech elections are proving difficult to predict.

Could it be that the Czech electorate is nurturing warm and fuzzy feelings towards the European Union? Or is it simply that Czech voters are pursuing their tradition of being cussed, awkward and unbiddable?

The elections for a new president (a post that was previously filled by a vote in the national parliament) are proving devilishly difficult to predict.

In a television debate between the candidates, Jana Bobošíková, a former independent MEP, told viewers: “If you oppose the EU, I am your only choice.” She was rewarded in the first round of the contest at the weekend (11-12 January) with just 2.4% of the votes. Zuzana Roithová, a centre-right MEP, took a less Eurosceptic line and fared a bit better, but still polled only 5%.

Another that the voters rejected was Jan Fischer, the technocrat who was prime minister in 2009-10, taking over part-way through the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers. He had been leading in the opinion polls, but finished only third in the first round with 16% of the votes.

In the run-up to the contest, Tomio Okamura, a half-Japanese businessman, was the novelty act, but was disqualified because of fictitious signatures on his nomination papers. Then a composer with a tattoo all over his face – Vladimír Franz – grabbed some attention. In the event, the two candidates who have won through to the second round run-off on 25-26 January are names that the rest of Europe might have heard of: Miloš Zeman, who was prime minister in 1998-2002, and Karel Schwarzenberg, the current foreign minister (a post he has held since 2010 and previously held in 2007-09).

At least the electorate now has a clear choice. Schwarzenberg was nominated to the 2007-09 government by the Greens, whereas Zeman has echoed Václav Klaus's doubts about human responsibility for global warming. Schwarzenberg is a Bohemian aristocrat whose family tree awakens memories of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his party, TOP 09, is pro-EU. Zeman, on the other hand, who has made a speciality of visceral criticism of his successors on the centre-left, is more sceptical about everything except his own abilities. However, if the voters do opt for Schwarzenberg, it will not necessarily betoken new-found enthusiasm for the EU. It might just be that they believe their presidents should be gruff old men with moustaches.

© 2014 European Voice. All rights reserved.
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