Will Vaclav Klaus just retire? Unlikely

Would you say that soon to be ex-President Vaclav Klaus may play a significant role on the Czech political scene in the future (perhaps with some help of Milos Zeman) and what kind of role?

David Cadier, Fellow in International Strategy and Diplomacy, Department of International Relations. London School of Economics and Political Science

Predictions are difficult, especially about the future, as the quip goes, but also about Vaclav Klaus. We can nonetheless depart from two relatively ascertained facts – his influence within the ODS and his taste for media spotlight – in trying to anticipate whether Vaclav Klaus is likely to remain a significant actor in Czech domestic politics for the years to come.

First, Vaclav Klaus remains influent within the ODS and party politics is key in the Czech system. This influence was made apparent last September when, facing intra-party contestation on his leadership of the ODS, Petr Necas felt the need to reach out to Vaclav Klaus’ ideas by dismissing the Czech diplomatic tradition of support to Human Rights activists (a tradition imprinted by Vaclav Havel and of which Klaus has been a constant critic). Mending fences with Klaus was seen by Necas as a necessity in trying to secure his re-election as Chairman of the party. Klaus is indeed a variable to be taken into account: he supported and encouraged the five rebellious ODS MPs who almost brought down the government over their refusal to vote the fiscal reform plan prepared by Necas and his team. Klaus is not all-powerful within the ODS – Necas is still at the helm of the party and of the government – but he has some followers. His impact on Czech politics will depend on how this influence within the party evolves (e.g. in case Necas has to step down) but also on the future of the party itself. After the two severe blows he suffered at the senatorial and at the presidential elections, the ODS is in deep crisis.

Second, Vaclav Klaus is notorious for his taste for provocative statements and his inclination for media spotlight (which go hand in hand). One can wonder whether upon leaving office he will also be leaving the public debate – it is hard to imagine him retiring in a monastic silence. He announced his intent to devote his time to his think tank (he will also be joining the Cato institute) but might be tempted to do more. He will certainly not have the clout he use to enjoy as President – Czech citizens have a great respect for the presidential office but might be less patient with Klaus as a loose cannon. Again, the question is from what position he will be contributing to the political debate. One can only notice how vocal he was between the two rounds of the presidential elections, firing heavily at Karel Schwarzenberg over his comments on the Benes decree but also criticizing more generally and more implicitly his ‘Austrian exile’ (even Vlaclav Klaus’ spouse and son made dismissive public comments about Mr Schwarzenberg). Why? With the current ODS-led government being extremely unpopular and the ODS candidates having suffered major electoral blows, could Mr Klaus be trying to bring down a centre-right figure so as to prepare the ground for his providential return as a saviour of the Czech right?

Dariusz Kałan, Central Europe analyst, Polish Institute of International Affairs

After more than 20 years at the highest positions in Czech politics, it is hard to imagine that Václav Klaus will choose the peaceful retiree life now. A return to a “normal” reality could be quite perplexing for him, as in one interview he mentioned that he has never used a cash machine. Some rumours appeared that he will either become more engaged in his think tank activity or maybe even would establish a brand new party so as to keep influencing the country’s politics. However, what I find most likely this year is that he will remain present in the Czech public debate as a commentator, backing the new president, Miloš Zeman, and criticising all others; then in 2014 he will stand for European Parliament. It is not out of the question that he would be on Zeman’s party’s lists. The support that Klaus and his family gave Zeman during the presidential campaign must sooner or later be repaid.

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