This week marks the end of the first 100 days in office for President Miloš Zeman. Radio Prague spoke with political analyst Jiří Pehe about what was surprising about President Zeman’s actions during these past three months, and how we can assess them.
“Many of the things he has done in the first 100 days, he had sort of flagged before becoming president. He spoke openly about his intention to use presidential powers as much as possible, because he feels that a directly elected president enjoys more legitimacy than a president elected by parliament.
“So, what he has done so far is not really surprising. He has pushed the limits of the constitution, he has been very active in asserting himself in certain areas. For example, he has used his constitutional privilege to visit government meetings and sessions of the parliament and so on. And in this respect, I would say, he has been more active then his predecessor President Klaus or President Havel. He certainly been an extremely active president in his first 100 days.”
And what would you say are the decisive moment or the milestones of these first few months in office for President Zeman?
“I see about four moments as important in shaping Mr. Zeman’s presidency, in his first 100 days in office. First, he changes the course of the Czech Republic in regards to the European Union. It was a symbolic measure, but it was nevertheless important when he hoisted the European Union flag at Prague Castle, and signed an amendment to the Lisbon treaty at the Castle in the presence of officials of the European Union. That was certainly a significant departure from the policies of his predecessor, and I think this was probably his most important gesture as president.
“Then another area which is important are his attempts to expand the interpretation of the constitution in his favor. So, he has been engaged in a battle with the Minister of Foreign Affairs over appointing ambassadors, he has been trying to block the nominations of some professors who the president names, and so on. All of these things are a grey are in the constitution and it will be up to constitutional experts and maybe even the constitutional court to resolve these conflicts, but it does show in which direction Zeman will probably go in the future, meaning that he will be using the powers given to him by the constitution to the utmost.
“And then, perhaps on a more personal level, he certainly has surprised many people in a rather unpleasant way by some of his public appearances. The public was convinced that he is drinking to much and then he actually lied about this. And, as public opinion polls have shown, this was an unpleasant surprise even for his supporters. So his support in the polls after 100 days is actually lower than the support he received in the elections.”
So, looking into the future, we probably can expect a few more surprises as the president to define and re-shape his position…
“I think we will definitely see more surprises from Zeman. He has not used all of his gunpowder, so to speak, but, at the same time, I feel that he has set a pace for himself which is really to some degree detrimental to what he is trying to achieve. He’s been everywhere, he comments on everything and somehow the public space is filled him and his initiatives. And that can actually be counterproductive in the long term, simply because people will get tired of this very active president, who on top of all of this very often speaks about issues which are really outside of his presidential mandate, and therefore he cannot achieve much in those areas. He very often acts as a political commentator rather than a president. So, I think we will see surprises from Zeman, but at the same time if he doesn’t slow down and doesn’t choose his priorities carefully, he may become less effective.”