Leftist Former Prime Ministers Wins Czech Presidency

Miloš Zeman is expected to support a more pro-European policy.

View of the Prague Castle, the residence of the Czech president, July 2004
View of the Prague Castle, the residence of the Czech president, July 2004 (Natalia Romay)

Former Czech prime minister Miloš Zeman won his country’s presidential runoff election on Saturday with 55 percent support against 45 percent for the libertarian candidate and incumbent foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg.

Zeman, who was a Communist Party member before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, played a key role in the revival of the Czech Social Democratic Party after the end of the Cold War, which he led as premier between 1998 to 2002. He tried and failed to win its presidential nomination in 2003 after which he retired from politics.

Young and urban voters were skeptical of Zeman’s past and swayed by the incorruptible Schwarzenberg, who carried a fiscally conservative party he helped establish in 2009 to a third-place finish in 2010’s parliamentary election. It is now part of the country’s right-wing government.

“President of the bottom ten million”

Zeman, who framed the election as a choice “between a candidate from the left and one of the right,” managed to tap into especially rural and working-class voters’ dissatisfaction with the ruling parties, which have cut public spending, raised taxes and reined in pension payments to keep the Czech Republic’s budget shortfall under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

“I want to be president of the bottom ten million,” he said.

What’s next?

Schwarzenberg remains foreign minister. Zeman is due to replace outgoing president Václav Klaus in March.

Zeman is expected to support a more pro-European policy than Klaus, a Euroskeptic.

The Czech president’s powers are limited, but he can block legislation and appoint central bankers and judges. He also has the authority to dissolve parliament.

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