Friday, 24 March 2017

MfD: Relations of Zeman, Sobotka, Babiš to influence elections

ČTK |
12 January 2017

Prague, Jan 11 (CTK) - President Milos Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Finance Minister Andrej Babis are the central figures of Czech politics and their oddly interconnected relations will influence the forthcoming elections, Miroslav Korecky wrote in daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) on Wednesday.

As a result of the early general election held in late 2013, the election cycle changed and the presidential election (January 2018) will be organised only a few months after the general election (October 2017), Korecky writes.

He says that this means that two election campaigns will actually merge and that the outgoing (and possibly later re-elected) President Zeman can markedly influence the lineup of the new government shortly before his mandate expires.

Zeman, Social Democrat (CSSD) leader Sobotka and ANO movement leader Babis have been the key players in domestic politics for three years. The election duathlon may destroy their interconnection, however, the "Holy Trinity" of Czech politics may also remain on the scene, only with minor shifts in the individual roles, Korecky says.

Since the election campaign is going to start soon, namely in March when the 72-year-old Zeman will announce whether he will be defending his post next year, the three politicians have been sending both open and hidden messages to one another, Korecky writes.

When Zeman recently praised Babis for the surplus of the 2016 state budget, he was joking that Babis should win a Nobel prize in economy for this, while Babis said ANO might support Zeman for president and not field its own presidential candidate, Korecky writes.

Sobotka indirectly invited Zeman to take part in the CSSD internal referendum on the best presidential candidate, knowing that the rank and file will certainly choose Zeman. Sobotka resigned on his own independent politics and he consults personnel changes in his cabinet with Zeman, Korecky writes.

And Zeman recently stopped attacking Sobotka, whom he tried to weaken and even remove from power some time ago, Korecky adds.

By announcing whether he will be defending his post, Zeman will add an important piece to the political puzzle, which shows the picture of the next Chamber of Deputies, government and the Presidential Office, Korecky says.

If Zeman is defending his post, this will have strong influence on whom individual parties will support for president because of the parties' concern about the situation after the general election. On the other hand, Zeman is well aware that to successfully defend his post, he should not set himself against one of the two main parties in the country, ANO and the CSSD, Korecky says.

It may seem at first glance that the popular Zeman is the most self-confident and that he will push his own way forward like an icebreaker. But such an impression would be wrong. Zeman often appears to act regardless of the others, but he can count well. He knows that his voters are both Sobotka's socialists and Babis's populists. If there is something Zeman does not want, it is to leave politics as somebody who failed to defend his mandate, Korecky writes.

He says it is apparent that Sobotka as well as Babis need Zeman - and not only because Zeman will be deciding on the next government.

Sobotka needs peaceful relations with Zeman in order to keep the Social Democrats united and avoid dangerous opposition in his party, while Babis needs Zeman and his popularity to win as many votes in the general election as possible. Opinion polls show that ANO is the most popular party, however, ANO might not be strong enough to be able to form a government without two smaller partners or without the CSSD, Korecky writes.

Paradoxically, Babis and Sobotka also need one another to a certain extent, he says.

For Babis, Sobotka is a weak chairman of a rival party who enables him to try to win supporters even among left-wing voters. For Sobotka, Babis is a coalition partner who opposes a lot of the CSSD plans but who eventually yields to pressure in most cases and so he does not damage Sobotka's image of a successful prime minister, Korecky writes.

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