When Miloš Zeman was chosen as the Czech Republic’s first directly elected president earlier this year, much of the credit for his victory went to Miroslav Šlouf, his long-time, somewhat shadowy ‘adviser’ who masterminded his successful election campaign. So many are still struggling to comprehend the bizarre series of events of the past 24 hours. First it was announced he’d been nominated to lead Mr Zeman’s Citizens’ Rights Party (SPOZ) in Prague in next month’s elections; within hours it was announced he would not be standing. So what’s going on?
Miroslav Šlouf has lurked in the shadows of Czech political life for decades. To some Mr Šlouf represents everything that’s wrong with Czech politics – a former Communist, someone who glides effortlessly between the worlds of politics and business, a shadowy operator with excellent connections helping to grease the wheels of various deals.
His political triumph was masterminding the campaign to install the leftist former prime minister Miloš Zeman in Prague Castle; partly by keeping as low a profile as possible, so unpalatable is the cheery, red-faced and rather rotund man to many Czechs, especially in Prague. Robert Břešťan is the chief political commentator of the leading economic weekly Ekonom.
“There are plenty of reasons why Miroslav Šlouf is quite a controversial person in Czech politics. He’s a former Communist. He’s a spin doctor, a political lobbyist who’s a very influential person. He’s been involved in plenty of political scandals, mainly going back to the time when Miloš Zeman was prime minister and Šlouf was his chief political adviser. Šlouf is a man with very broad and rich contacts in the worlds of politics and business. Documents and recordings prove he was closely in contact with the former head of the Czech mafia, the so-called Godfather Mrázek, who was later shot dead. So I think there are plenty of reasons why Miroslav Šlouf is a controversial person.”
Many were shocked on Thursday morning when it emerged that Miroslav Šlouf had been selected to lead the Prague chapter of the Citizens Rights Party – the party built around the campaign to elect Zeman president - into October’s early elections.
The left-leaning party already had little chance of electing anyone in the right-wing Czech capital, even if it passes the national 5% threshold to enter parliament, so putting the controversial Mr Šlouf at the top of the list appeared to be political suicide. Especially since Mr Zeman has publicly shunned him ever since taped recordings with mafia boss Mrázek emerged.
Commentators were still chewing over the meaning of the move – was it a brazen attempt by the president to rehabilitate his unsavoury adviser? Was it sign of an inner struggle within the Citizens Rights Party? Was it a message from Mr Šlouf to Mr Zeman – don’t forget who put you in power? when a series of strange events began to unfold.
First, a party press conference planned for Thursday evening was cancelled. Then the Czech news weekly Týden began reporting that Mr Šlouf‘s candidature was only a stunt, a PR campaign to raise the SPOZ's profile, and even ‘just a bit of a laugh’ in the words of one unnamed party insider.
Now the news site Novinky.cz is reporting that Mr Šlouf had himself nominated in Prague as an act of revenge against the president for sidelining him. Like so much of Miroslav Šlouf‘s political career, the real story behind it will probably never be known.