>Klaus wins amid whiff of corruption and populist cameo

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So, inevitably, Václav Klaus is re-elected in the third round of the re-run Czech presidential election with 141 parliamentary voters to Švejnar‘s rather paltry 113. They vote in public – Klaus’s supporters are confident of winning and so don’t make a fuss, but the whole process is still painfully slow and still takes all day. VK still manages to pick up the vote of now expelled Social Democrat deputy Evžen Snitílý, most Christian Democrats and a few independent right-wing Senators carefully ‘minded’ by ODS parliamentarians to make sure they didn’t change their minds.

Snítilý joins a fairly long line of ex-party colleagues who have succumbed to the persuasion and blandishments of the right over the year. I can’t think of a single case of case of anyone defecting the other way from Civic to the Social Democrats. There is also the curiously incident of the non-appearance of Green deputy, Olga Zubová, which leave Green leader Martin Busík gobsmacked when he is informed of it by text message mid-way through the morning speeches. A Green Minister is finally dispatched to her home to find out what is going on. Apparently, she is ill due to post-operative complications from recent surgery, although Green leaders find the incident ‘inexcusable’ and ‘strange’ – which I take as a hint they suspect some kind of shady goings on. Her absence could have made all the difference by lower the attendence and hence the number of votes needed for a majority in the third round, but in the event it doesn’t. Snítilý’s vote for Klaus is arguably more crucial. In the lunch break TV commentators more or less openly speculate about whether this long-serving Social Democrat has been tempted to ‘secure his family’s future’ or just had a nervous breakdown. Ceské noviny reports most of the corruption allegations briefly here and also suggests that the going rate for a pro-Klaus vote is about 2 million crowns (around £55,000 sterling).

You almost believe the diagnosis of the Communists’ presidential candidate, Jana Bobošiková, the independent populist Euro MP and ex-news reader, that the Czech Republic is one small step from a mafia state. There was admittedly a great deal of exaggeration as various parliamentarians melodramatically confided their fears about the threatening texts and emails they had received for voting the ‘wrong’ way in the previous election and but true some loon(s) did sent some deputies and senators envelopes with bullets in. Moreover, the apparent nobbling of opposition MPs – an accusation that keeps surfacing in connection with the Civic Democrats in tight situations – did give Czech politics a distinct whiff of the post-Soviet . Perhaps, as the news magazine Respekt suggested, all we have is simply a shop window for Czech politics as it really is, although in truth it was probably the 2004 and 2006 Senate elections, whose majoritarian system benefited the Civic Democrats hugely, that sealed Klaus’s re-election more than the big bucks or shady deals that may have pushed him over the finishing line and saved us from a third or fourth set of presidential elections.
With the Christian Democrats won over to Klaus (expect a generous new restitution settlement with the Catholic Church) Švejnar never really had a chance. Various commentators suggest that his challenge was a kind of heroic failure – it was impressive that it materialized at all, a shrewd move by the Greens who first floated his candidacy, a clever play by the Social Democrats, who swallowed their dislike of Švejnar’s economic liberalism and tried to use the election to derail the government (as Klaus’s election derailed theirs in 2003)., and so on. I am rather sceptical about this, however. There are no second prizes in politics – the only and obvious winners are Klaus and ODS. Even the Communists, who seem to have not bothered to vote for Švejnar in the end, missed out on their previous role as kingmakers due to lack of parliamentary voters and a rather blatantly fielded set of public demands.

Possibly, the only other winner may be Jana Bobošiková, who bowed out as Communist standard bearer even before the voting had started, but gained some useful publicity and dealt very confidently and professionally with media questioning about her (basically pointless) candidacy. She was an interesting choice for the Communists, who in previous presidential elections have usually settled on some crusty academician. Bobošiková, by contrast has the demeanour of Anna Ford and the politics of Robert Kilroy-Silk with perhaps a touch of Imelda Marcos. She was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 on the populist eurosceptic Independent Democrats (ND) list of by ex-TV magnate Vladimír Železný, but broke with Železný, who checkered business and political career is full of such breaks, she is now associated with the tiny Politika 21 party, which briefly came to fame when the ex-wife of Civic Democrat PM Miroslav Topolánek stood as a Politika 21 candidate in the 2006 Senate elections. Leaving the far-right Republicans, who were very much a phenomenon of the 1990s and finally pegged out as a parliamentary force in 1998, the Independent Democrats were perhaps the closest the Czech politics has come to a populist upsurge of the kind seen elsewhere in CEE.
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