Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, January 19, 2019

Czech election exposes corruption

After a few heart attacks, back-door dealing, some threats and six voting rounds, the Czech Republic re-elected its current president, Václav Klaus, Feb. 15.

A parliamentary system governs the Czech Republic, so the president takes on the role as national representative for the country. While the president does not have any legislative powers, the election was still widely discussed.

Prior to the election, professors discussed the process with us in class and their views on the candidates. After the election, one professor in particular voiced her disgust with the whole system and gave ideas to change it.

The Czech Parliament first met to elect a new president Feb. 8 and continued until the next day, but no president was elected. Klaus was favored to win and came close in the third round of voting Feb. 9, but fell short one vote.

The Parliament, consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, elects the president. In the past, voting was secret, but the constitution states no rules. So, after much haggling, the Parliament agreed to open voting, putting more pressure on the members since lobbyists could see if the members were following their deals.

The elections consist of three rounds of voting. In the first round, the houses vote separately and a candidate needs a majority of all possible votes to win. The houses vote separately again in the second round and a candidate needs support from a majority of members present. In the third round, if no candidate has won yet, the houses vote together and a candidate needs a majority of the total votes. If any candidate still doesn't have a majority after the third round, the process is repeated days later.

Parliament members are heavily lobbied for their vote. Backroom deals can hardly be called uncommon. But the Czechs take it to the next level. Deputies and senators were threatened to change their votes, intimidated, blackmailed and the target of anonymous threats. A few members even suffered heart attacks from such threats.

Being a foreigner and not having a TV, I was not very aware of the election and would not have known it was even happening if we hadn't discussed it in class. It seemed almost odd that there were no political ads on the street or window signs supporting one candidate or the other. It seems like backdoor deals are the way the Czechs elect their presidents, or at least it is more obvious in the Czech Republic that such schemes are how presidents are elected.

Klaus, an economist and member of the Civic Democratic Party, was first elected president in 2003 and is only the second Czech president. Klaus is well-known for his arrogant style and lecture-type speeches, which have earned him the nickname "professor." He is a strong proponent of Czech identity and is against the European Union and the euro. Klaus is also anti-environment, anti-communist (which still is a fairly large party in the Czech Republic) and pro-economic reform.

His opponent, Jan Svejnar, is a professor at the University of Michigan, not a member of any party, but supported by the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

The Communist Party threw its own candidate into the mix during the second round of voting Feb. 15.

And after all of this, top government members consider changing the rules and allowing the people to vote directly for the president, though no official talks have taken place yet. Maybe the Czechs have the right idea.

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