Tag Archives: presidential election

Czech presidents: Welcome Mr Zeman!

8 Mar
Klaus a Zeman

Milos Zeman (R) and Vaclav Klaus (Photo zemannahrad.cz)

A small country rarely features on the world news agenda. However, CzechRepublic with its population of 10.5 millions has hit headlines many times, mostly because of its presidents. A new man has taken office today, following the first direct presidential elections in January. Like his predecessors, Milos Zeman has the potential to get onto international news pages. The following is a brief summary of what Czech presidents have been famous for abroad.

Vaclav Havel

The international community had known dissident playwright Vaclav Havel even before he became the first Czechoslovak post-communist president. His plays, banned in his own country, had won him recognition in theatres around the world.

When Czechoslovakia split into two countries in 1993, CzechRepublic kept Mr Havel as a head of state and gained with him the prestige that Slovakia has never had.

He was nominated several times for the Nobel peace price and collected a number of other international awards for his efforts as a global ambassador of conscience.

Mr Havel’s death in December 2011 was mourned around the world. The news of his passing away was shoved off front pages only by the dead of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, announced around the same time.

Vaclav Klaus

Mr Havel’s heir in the office has never shared the world’s admiration for his predecessor. There was a lot of tension between the two men, dating from the time Mr Klaus was a prime minister and going on when he became a president and Mr Havel, although retired, continued to comment on the Czech politics.

Mr Klaus has played down the part dissidents, such as Vaclav Havel, played in bringing down communism, suggesting the regime collapsed on its own. “The role of individuals is usually exaggerated,” he was quoted as saying on the Czech news website Novinky.cz.

The British weekly newspaper The Economist included Vaclav Klaus in its list of controversial Eastern European leaders, who tend to dismiss conventional diplomacy and seek negative publicity. Mr Klaus, for example, has refused to talk to foreign journalists unless they have promised to print his answers in full.

Mr Klaus has been especially noted for his views on the EU and global warming, existence of which he denies.

“I have never seen any sings of the Earth being destroyed. I don’t believe any serious, intelligent person could say such a thing,” he said in 2007.


Mr Klaus has also used one of the harshest eurosceptic parallels for the European Union. “The EU and the RVHP (an economic organization under the leadership of the Soviet Union) are very similar, not ideologically, but structurally. Decisions are not taken in your country,” he said.

Because of Mr Klaus’s long refusal to sign the Lisbon Treaty, CzechRepublic – one of the smallest EU member states – delayed the streamlining of the block’s administration.

Perhaps the greatest fame for Mr Klaus came after his visit in Chile in 2011 when a video of him pocketing a pen adorned with a semi-precious stone got viral on Youtube.


Milos Zeman

Former left-wing Prime Minister Milos Zeman was the presidential favourite of Mr. Klaus.

Although the two men come from opposite sides of political centre, they have much in common. Mr. Zeman made a comparison in his memoir:


“We have differed as followers of Keynesian and neoliberal economic models… I speak better Russian and much worse English. My poor German cannot be compared to that of Klaus. I believe to be a better speaker… but I have read Klaus’ published texts with a lot of interest. We have completely disagreed over European integration, where I have backed federalism. Klaus likes jazz, I like Abba. Klaus is a sportsman, while I am a lazy fat guts who at the very best goes on bike or cross-country ski. We both like bread with pork grease and onion… I could go on with similarities and differences… The important thing is that Klaus is suited to be a president and I dare to say that he is in this office much better than I would be,” he wrote in 2005, two years after he lost presidential vote by parliament.

Like Mr. Klaus, Milos Zeman has had reservations about Vaclav Havel: “I would say that Vaclav Havel was an excellent dissident, but during his political career he did not prove to have the skills of a true statesman,” he wrote in the same book.

The media has often portrayed Mr Zeman as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking politician.

Notorious for his strong language, he gained a nickname “the vulgar prime minister” when he was a head of government between 1998-2002.

He caused uproar on several occasions, once for likening Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler.

At an international conference in 2011, Mr Zeman called Islam an enemy and an anti-civilisation: “Two billion people live in it and it is financed partly from oil sales and partly from drug sales,” he said.

The new president shares his predecessor’s dislike of journalists, labelling them in the past “manure” and “hyenas.” However, he has often specified he meant Czech journalists in particular.

The election victory of Mr Zeman, was widely reported around the world. The news found its way not only to the BBC and The New York Times, but also to the media of countries, in which the interest in tiny Czech Republic would not be expected, such as the Iranian Press TV, Turkish Hurriyet, Pan-Arab Al Jazeera and Chinese Xinhua.

Milos Zeman vowed to take the presidency more actively than his predecessors.

“The president is not a ficus or an oleander (plant) standing in the corner of the room, whose role comprises merely being watered from time to time,” he said in an pre-election debate.
Combine this decision with Mr Zeman’s views and personal style and we can expect to hear more about him in the future.

A prediction made by respected Czech commentator Martin Komarek in 2003 might well fail. He said only Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus will be remembered in a hundred years time. “History will take no notice of Mr Zeman,” he said.


Finally ceasefire in Venezuela?

16 Oct

Photo: Venezuelan information ministry

An editorial in the Mexican daily La Jornada praised the Venezuelan elections, which it said resolved political differences in a pacific and democratic way, instead of intensifying and multiplying them like it had happened in Mexico.

So, is this the moment for the “Bravo!”?

I know my Venezuelan friends would disagree and there have been reports of opposition supporters weeping with disappointment over the election results.

But eight millions Venezuelans danced in the streets with joy that the president, who has halved poverty and has extended social and political rights to them, has been re-elected.

At the same time, the opposition has achieved strong results, which have made Hugo Chavez to soften his usually confrontational tone.

He said he had “a pleasant” phone conversation with the opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “I’m inviting to national unity, while respecting our differences.” Chavez tweeted a day after the elections.

If the election outcome reconciled the government and the opposition to the level normal in other democratic countries, the Venezuelans could hope for a brighter future.

It is this extreme animosity between the two sides that poisons the Venezuelan society. The attacks from the opposition (and opposition-run media), such as the attempted coup in 2002, push Chavez further to authoritarianism, which then prompts more attacks, sometimes amounting to conspiracy against the government.

So far, Capriles has acted exemplary in this sense. He refrained from any show of malevolence when the news of Chavez’s illness emerged last year and wished him instead to get better soon.

He promptly recognized the election results and congratulated the re-elected president without attempting to accuse him of electoral fraud.

But the US newspaper The Wasington Post warned that after previous peace offers, Chavez quickly returned to confrontation.

When is time to stop fighting?

19 Jul

Party mates are gradually abandoning Lopez Obrador in his fight against Mexico’s election results.

This “EPNdejo” is not my president (photo by Christhian Ferenc)

An editorial in the Spanish newspaper El Pais on 15 July called the second-place finisher in Mexico’s presidential election a ”burden” and advised the country’s left to rethink his leadership. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hit back, accusing Spain of “colonial journalism”. However, a number of the prominent members of his party seem to agree with the Spanish commentator.

AMLO, as Mr Lopez Orador is known in Mexico, filed a legal challenge to the results of the 1 July presidential election. It is now up to the three judges who sit on the Federal Electoral Court (Trife), the maximum authority, to address the complaints regarding the election. The court has until early September to rule on the validity of the vote.

Many senior officials from Amlo’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) believe their results were good. There were also elections for Congress, several state governors and local governments alongside the presidential poll. The PRD has won 101 out of 500 seats in the lower house of the Parliament, and 22 seats in the 128-member upper house. The party has also won two out of six contested governor posts and the one of the mayor of Mexico City.

If the successful candidates challenged the legality of the presidential vote, they would also be hanging question marks over their victory. Not suprisingly therefore, they are very careful when positioning themselves on the issue.

The newly elected governor of Morales, Graco Ramirez, has quickly distanced himself from AMLO, saying he prefers to govern his state.

The current mayor of  Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, has ruled out vote-buying in the capital .

His successor, Miguel Angel Mancera,  tweeted on 2 July: “Every candidate has the right to contest the election. Exceeding campaign expenses, as @EPN (Enrique Pena Nieto) did, is an electoral offence.” However, he recognized Mr Pena Nieto’s victory.

The PRD’s bigwigs urge Mr Lopez Obrador to avoid repeating 2006 and instead to take advantage of the influence the party has won in the Parliament and state governments to bring about the changes they propose.

There is something in it. But so there is in Mr Lopez Obrador’s claim that he cannot accept fraudulent results.

AMLO alleges that Mr Pena Nieto bought as many as 5 million votes – over 6% of Mexico’s 79 million voters. If this was true, the results of the election, which now say AMLO lost by some 7% of the vote, could have been very different.

Online battles

Although the support for AMLO is waning among his party colleagues and some commentators say he has alienated many of his middle class followers by the havoc of 2006, there are still many willing to fight battles for him on the streets as well as online.

Thousands took part in the second “mega march” in Mexico on 14 July. Videos of protests staged in other countries have been posted on Youtube.

Social media demonstrate well the support Mr Lopez Obrador is drawing, but also what a divisive personality he is.

Twitter trending topics mentions (data source: Topsy.com)

AMLO’s supporters have been generating Twitter’s trending topics since the election. Many of these soared to a couple of hundred thousand mentions in a day, although they have quickly died out.

Two words, mosty used by AMLO’s fans, have kept consistently high volume of mentions: “fraude” (fraud) and #yosoy132 (I am 132, a student movement opposing the election of Mr Pena Nieto).

“Soriana”, the supermarket chain whose vouchers were allegedly used to buy votes for Mr Pena Nieto, has been also frequently mentioned. It has developed variations such as #sorianagate or #yocomproensoriana (I shop in Soriana).

There have been short-lived strong hash tags such as #epnnuncaseramipresidente (EPN will never be my president), with over 370,000 mentions on 3 and 4 July or #megamarcha (mega march), with almost 370,000 mentions on 7 July, the day when the first “mega march” against the election results took place.

#ExigimosDemocracia (we demand democracy), soared to 126,794 mentions  on 7 July, followed by #quefaltaderespeto (what a lack of respect), with 90’545 on 9 July and then by #amlonoterindes (AMLO don’t give in), with 69,157 mentions on 12 July.

Many influential twitterers criticized the PRD leaders for not backing Mr Lopez Obrador.

The tweet by @Facso on 11 July was retweeted 110 times: “This #LaIzquierdaVsAMLO (the left against AMLO) is right. Neither Ebrard, nor Mancera, nor Cardenas has positioned themselves strongly alongside AMLO. Strange”

Some said the elected PRD candidates owe their victories to AMLO.

A message by @cesargasca on 9 July was retweeted 9 times: “We demand that governors Mancera, Mr Graco and Mr Nunez maintain their support for AMLO. Thanks to him they won.”

Although this claim is questionable. In the traditional PRD’s power base in Mexico City half a million more people voted for Mr Mancera in local elections than for Mr Lopez Obrador in the presidential poll on the same day.

On the other side of the AMLO emotional spectrum, @reina_ximena tweeted: “#LaizquierdavsAMLO These political groups have to distance themselves from AMLO, otherwise they will fall into violence.”

@garca_ale triggered 16 retweets on 11 July: “#AMLO radicalizes the left movement, believing that if they don’t think like him, they are against Mexico.

Many in the PRD now seem to be coming to a conclusion that AMLO has no chance of winning them the country’s presidency. They have started considering their 2018 candidate for the top office. And although AMLO is still in the game, the names of Miguel Angel Mancera and the current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard have already been put forward.