Svejnar or Klaus? The February Presidential Vote
As a scholar and an emigrant, Jan Svejnar would have to face the suspicious, or at least cautious Czech public- if there was a direct public vote. There isn’t, so all the commentators’ speculative wordplay is directed towards the 281 legislators in Czech Parliament. The key question our MPs and Senators are to answer: is everything OK at the Prague castle or do we need a change? While it may sound paradoxical, the negative answer to the first part does not imply the same to the second.
Vaclav Klaus is the face of the early nineties economic transformation. Unlike Thatcher herself, Klaus’s Thatcherist experiments left him in fine shape and, after a brief period of insecurity, he was more or less at the top level for the last sixteen years. He is credited for kick- starting the standard political party system in CR and for doing the same with the economy- but in the latter case some of the consequences were seen as disastrous.
Svejnar has been living in the US since 1969 and he’s a professor at the Michigan University since 1996. He has higher education than Klaus, but his role in the post- 1989 politics is less visible, though he was an advisor to Václav Havel. Regarding the transformation, he had challenged Klaus from the very beginning, having worked out a conception of his own in 1989. The dispute is ongoing and fundamental, on the ideological level. Klaus as a devoted follower of Friendrich Hayek or Milton Friedman always claimed that the market should be left in peace, untouched by the state. The competition will fix all the problems. He went even further than many other liberals by understating the role of law in the establishment of the market: his market was indeed free, the question is whether it wasn’t free of rules. Svejnar promoted the role of rules of the competition.
Klaus sees the EU as a disposable and potentially dangerous institution, though he doesn’t reject the project altogether. Švejnar is in overall positive towards the concept, although he does notice the problems it faces (bureaucratization, lack of effectiveness etc.) and promotes more of concentration on effectiveness and flexibility. There’s another cleavage concerning the climate change. Švejnar is more of a moderate supporter of the eco- politics, but that makes anyone a radical in comparison with Klaus, who presents the climate change campaign as a new form of Communism.
Klaus has strong support in the public and the parliament. The public opinion is important for while the vote itself is parliamentary, the position on and conduct during the presidential election is a part of the parties’ profile. He has the last elections winner on his side and the Christian democrats likely to join. Svejnar has a not-so-reliable support of the left. The Social Democrats have really less of a problem with Klaus staying- he’s a nuisance for them, but no real harm. The Communists have even less reasons to vote for Svejnar, seen a rightist only an inch more socially aware than Klaus.
On the opposite side, there may be members of the ODS slightly fed up with their founder’s anti- European and anti- environmentalist attacks and if it is so there is hardly a more suitable counter-candidate than an experienced liberal economist. Svejnar also has the Green Party on his side, the only party that really does wish Klaus to leave the Castle.