Zeman gaining on Švejnar, Fischer still leads

Ex-Czech caretaker premier Jan Fischer still well ahead of the pack of presidential, Miloš Zeman may be a dark horse

Former caretaker PM Jan Fischer (left) is now polling well ahead of early favorite Jan Švejnar (right), a Czech-American economist who in 2008 took on the current president, Václav Klaus, in what stand to be the last elections to be decided by parliamentarians — rather than the people foto: © Wikimedia, ReutersČeská pozice

Former caretaker PM Jan Fischer (left) is now polling well ahead of early favorite Jan Švejnar (right), a Czech-American economist who in 2008 took on the current president, Václav Klaus, in what stand to be the last elections to be decided by parliament

A new public opinion poll shows presidential hopeful Miloš Zeman, the former Social Democrat (ČSSD) prime minister, gaining ground on Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar — in the battle for second place.

However, the latest Factum Invenio poll shows that Jan Fischer (unaffiliated), who served as prime minister in a caretaker government, would still win by a comfortable margin with 24.4 percent of the vote compared to 17.8 for Švejnar and 12 percent for Zeman.

Fischer headed an interim government ruling from mid-2009 to mid-2010. He is currently vice-president of the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Although he and Švejnar are not affiliated with any party, they both are considered left of center.

Zeman, who officially tossed his hat in the ring in February, is honorary chairman of the Party of Civic Rights — Zemanovci (SPOZ), which failed to get the 5.0 percent of votes in lower house elections in May 2010 that would have allowed the party to enter parliament.

However, the former ČSSD PM is getting a boost in the popularity contest — to date, Czech presidents have been selected by parliamentarians rather than through direct elections — due to the high level of dissatisfaction with the current center-right government — and has a loyal base among supporters of his old party.

The ČSSD, meanwhile, is likely to field Jiří Dienstbier, Jr. as the center-left party’s candidate; in the Factum Invenio poll, the ČSSD senator trailed Zeman by a significant margin (with 5.3 percent of respondents saying he was their first choice as Czech head of state).

Švejnar — who lost to current president Václav Klaus in the last contest, when he stood for the ČSSD — has confirmed that this time around he will run as an independent. He will, however, take part in campaign debates organized by the Social Democrats, the largest opposition party, pitting himself against Dienstbier at the lectern. Klaus’ mandate expires in March 2013.

Depending on what the polls show in the months to come, the ČSSD — which other polls show would easily win parliamentary elections if held now, and which party leader Bohuslav Sobotka has said it should win at least 35 percent of the vote in all Czech regions in the regional elections this autumn — could well throw their support behind Švejnar.

Regardless, should the backlash against the current center-right government continue into next spring, looking dangerously like “also rans” will be TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister (now polling at 5.5 percent) and Civic Democrats (ODS) Senator Přemysl Sobotka (at 4.3 percent).

Polling above both men are businessman Tomio Okamura, who has Czech, Japanese and Korean roots (with 9.9 percent) — though he is not even a candidate — and former MEP Jana Bobošíková, leader of the nationalist Sovereignty party (with 6.6 percent); Christian Democrat (KDU-ČSL) Zuzana Roithová, a current MEP, polled and former Czech National Bank governor Zdeněk Tůma (who is close to TOP 09), each got 3.8 percent in the poll.

Not appearing on the public’s radar yet, at least judging from the Factum Invenio poll, is Evžen Tošenovský, and ODS Member of the European Parliament, who is said to have decided to enter the contest after the speaker of the lower house, party colleague Miroslava Němcová, withdrew.