Current Affairs Low-key election campaign enters final phase
Campaigning in the country’s first direct presidential elections has entered its final phase and the nine candidates in the running for the top post have just eight days left in which to convince undecided voters they are the best man –or woman- for the job.
Anyone expecting balloons, door-to-door soliciting or insult-trading would be disappointed. Campaigning in the Czech Republic’s first presidential elections has been formal and low-key from the start and there is no sign of things heating up as the election day nears. Both the candidates and the public are moving in unchartered waters and candidates are treading cautiously in their attempt to find the right measure of dignity and approachability expected in a head of state. Paradoxically, the election campaign was more intense at the outset when presidential hopefuls not supported by a party needed to collect 50,000 signatures from the public in support of their candidacy and many travelled around the country to do so, talking to people, handing out T-shirts and even giving them a taste of their home cooking. Although originally campaigning was expected to run through the Christmas holiday season, many candidates opted to put it on hold for a few days, to give people what they called “a well-deserved rest from politics”.
The last phase of campaigning, launched after Christmas, includes short TV and radio spots and nation-wide TV debates in which candidates emphasize their readiness to deliver everything that Czechs lack in politics – political culture, transparency and the ability to reach consensus. The first of these debates on Thursday night brought no surprises, with the candidates who took part making general statements and taking few swipes at their political opponents. For the most part, candidates fielded uncomfortable questions about how they would address specific problems by pointing out that the president’s powers are limited. A debate with all nine candidates which is seen as the culmination of the election campaign is scheduled for next Thursday night – less than 24 hours before Czechs go to the polls.
Between now and then most of the candidates have scheduled one last public event. Former prime minister Miloš Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg have opted for concerts in their support at which they are expected to make an appearance. Senator Jiří Dienstbier has scheduled one final meeting with the public and former MEP Zuzana Roitová is promising voters a big surprise on Karlovo namestí on Monday night. Composer Vladimir Franz will issue the last of his election newspapers, arguing that handing out grilled sausages would not make him a better man for the job.
While some have spent millions on their election campaign, others have forked out less than 100,000 crowns, running their campaigns with the help of volunteers and relying on the fact that they are already well-known, either from politics or other walks of life. And, as the day of the vote nears, many are trying to ease-up and crack a few jokes. Challenged about whether he would sleep on the job –in reference to his occasional naps in the lower house – Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg pointed out that being president would have one great advantage: he would no longer be forced to listen to senseless debates.