A third of Czechs would cast their ballots in direct presidential elections next year for Jan Fischer, the statistician with no formal party ties who served as prime minister in a caretaker government, a survey by the Median agency showed. Meanwhile, Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar, who competed for the presidency in 2008 — in the last election to be decided by lawmakers — has lost favor.
A change many thought would not happen is now firmly on course, direct elections of the Czech head of state. The upper house of parliament, the Senate, gave the change sufficient backing late Wednesday in spite of worries expressed that it is a jump in the dark which upsets the country's constitutional balance and creates grounds for even more stand-offs between president, prime minister and parliament.
Jan Fischer, a European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) vice president who served as an interim Czech prime minister in a caretaker government, announced at the end of January that if direct presidential elections are held in 2013 he intends to stand as a nonaffiliated candidate. Recent opinion polls show Fischer is the clear favorite among Czech voters; his record isn’t as rosy as many think, and few know where he stands on major issues.
Czech MPs have voted in favor of a constitutional bill to introduce direct presidential elections. Is President Václav Klaus right when he claims that the move is a “fatal error”? Jan Kysela, an expert in constitutional law, says a change in how the president is elected will not restore voters’ belief in politics; on the contrary, it could create a new power base at Prague Castle and further weaken the position of the Czech government.
Last week after the coalition government’s draft bill to change the Constitution to enable direct presidential elections was submitted to the lower house for a second reading, Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil (Civic Democrats, ODS), and the deputy prime minister for anti-corruption and deputy head of the Public Affairs party (VV), Karolína Peake, said the chances of the draft legislation being passed is fifty–fifty.
The minor Czech center-left party SPOZ, named after ex-ČSSD Prime Minister Miloš Zeman, has collected the ‘magic number’ of 50,000 signatures on a petition calling for the direct election of presidents, regional governors and mayors. Most Czechs want the center-right government (ODS, TOP 09 and VV) to deliver on its promise to allow for direct presidential elections in 2013, but doubt it will happen.