Jan Macháček


Výsledky hledání

Czech Business Weekly

How (not) to size up a presidency

05. 03. 2007
It’s time to issue President Václav Klaus with a report card. As “Mr. Professor”–as admirers dub him–nears his term’s fifth year, now’s an opportune moment to ask whether he should be reelected. Klaus is indeed a very popular head of state.

His approval rating is consistently higher than that experienced by predecessor Václav Havel and exceeds that of all Czech politicians. As a people that lived under a monarchy for centuries, Czechs enjoy their head of state as the “darling of the nation.”

Controversially, however, Klaus enjoys the bonus of communist support. The Communists detested Havel as the capitalist kid and prominent dissident who led the deposing of the regime. They found no reason to love him as the president. Klaus, in sharp contrast, was elected thanks to the Communists’ vote (given following their war on the left with the Social Democrats). He’s repeatedly invited Communist leaders to the Castle, whereas with Havel they couldn’t penetrate his boycott. Around a fifth of Czechs still support the Communists, and Klaus’ popularity figures have crucially benefited from his decision not to shun them.

Klaus, quite simply, is also popular because he does popular things. He visits forgotten villages and little towns, travels around the country extensively and visits big sports events and beauty contests. A skier himself, he stays in line and congratulates national heroes like cross-country skiing champion Kateřina Neumannová. He likes it and people, generally, also like it. But these are all extra-constitutional activities of a president.

If he wishes to do these things, we taxpayers willingly provide him with the means, but let’s not forget, the real reason we have a president is his constitutional duties: his role in putting together a government, choosing Constitutional Court and central bank candidates, speaking on foreign policy, etc. Measured against these duties, Klaus’s record has been rather dismal.

For more than two years, the Constitutional Court has been half-empty and not properly functional, because Klaus failed to submit proper candidates in good time. His attempts to fire Supreme Court head Iva Brožová proved unconstitutional. Excepting Governor Zdeněk Tůma, his central bank board candidates have absolutely had to be Klaus loyalists. They’re expected to lecture at Klaus’ pro-market think tank, the Center for Economics and Politics (CEP), and share his EU, euro and even global warming opinions.

We can also judge a politician by weighing his promises against his subsequent actions. Klaus claimed he’d rarely use his presidential veto. But he vetoes much more legislation than did his predecessor. It’s the same story with presidential pardons.

In foreign policy, Klaus follows his popularity instinct, never saying anything to damage his ratings. He’ll throw out some harsh euroskepticism, but he won’t act like a leader and say an objective word about an American anti-missile installation. He’s fully risk-averse.

The election split the house 100 to 100. It was tricky to resolve, but Klaus’s additional maneuvering helped mean this country almost reached an ugly world record for being “governmentless.” The reason? Klaus was out to widen his electoral base.

There’s no doubt. He’s a dedicated, hard-working man with bags of charisma. But he’s terribly self-serving, when he should always first and foremost use his strengths to serve the Constitution.

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