milos zemanDear All,

I wish you a very happy New Year!

Late last year I wrote to you about a coalition crisis facing the current Czech government. Well, the smaller coalition partner that had been threatening to leave the government has now decided to hang on, perhaps rather predictably, and negotiations are under way to resolve their differences with their partners. It isn’t my intention to fill you in on every single dispute in this fractious government, but I did want to give you some advance notice in case something major was about to happen.

Meanwhile this weekend saw the first round of the presidential elections. As no candidate won over 50% of the vote the two front runners will face a run-off in a fortnight. The successful candidates are Milos Zeman, a former Social Democratic Prime Minister (1998-2002) who subsequently left the party to form his own grouping, and Karel Schwarzenberg, an aristocrat, the current foreign minister and leader of the centre-right TOP 09 party. The Social Democratic candidate did not make it into the second round.

Whilst the president has a mainly ceremonial role under the Czech constitution, this election has attracted a great deal of attention as it is the first direct presidential election – previous presidents were elected by parliament. Milos Zeman is the more charismatic of the two candidates, and by far the better speaker, but he is unpopular amongst younger voters and much of the middle class. Karel Schwarzenberg is altogether uninspiring, but as an associate of the late President Vaclav Havel has a following amongst the young, and may benefit from a ‘stop Zeman’ vote. At 68 and 75 respectively Zeman and Schwarzenberg are both older than the outgoing president Vaclav Klaus when he assumed the office in 2003. Like Klaus, both men have been accused of tolerating corruption. An interesting feature of this weekend’s vote is that the openly Eurosceptic candidates scored surprisingly poorly, gaining well under 10% of the vote between them.

Do let me know if you have any questions,

Tanweer Ali