Political veteran Klaus re-elected Czech president

17th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

It is most likely his last election battle in Czech politics.

Prague -- Political veteran Vaclav Klaus emerged victorious Friday from what was perhaps his last election battle in the arena of Czech politics.

The charismatic yet highly divisive leader has been a staple of Czech democratic politics since communism tumbled in the then Czechoslovakia more than 18 years ago.

To many he is the living symbol of the country's complicated post- communist era, including the wild early years that followed the fall of communism.

Before communism tumbled, economist Klaus drove an East-German Trabant car and lived with his family of four in a communist-era concrete-slab block of apartments in an unappealing Prague neighborhood.

He already had been a man of strong convictions. "He makes it clear that who does not go along with his ideas and opinions is simply stupid and incompetent," reads the president's communist-era secret police file, citing a source who had been spying on him at economic seminars.

The no-nonsense academic emerged among the idealistic dissident leaders of the Velvet Revolution -- as the peaceful handover of power from the communists to democrats became known -- to spearhead the transformation of dysfunctional central planning to a market economy.

Klaus has defended the legacy of the economic transformation, which was accompanied by vast fraud and corruption, saying that the process had been a unique and unrepeatable moment in history.

During his long political career, Klaus has held the posts of the Czech Republic's finance minister, premier and speaker of parliament. In 2003, underdog Klaus finally succeeded his long-time political rival Vaclav Havel in the office of the Czech presidency.

But Klaus has not won Havel's acclaim abroad. He launched a lonely crusade against activists, such as former US vice-president Al Gore, who have campaigned to curb what scientists describe as human-caused global warming.

"I consider the protection of climate to be a fictional game unworthy of being played," the Czech president recently said. "Climate protection very much reminds me of the communist (slogan) 'Let's dictate to the wind and rain.'"

At the time when the Czech Republic celebrated joining the European Union in 2004, euroskeptic Klaus was emphasizing the need to fight for national interests. "We have to strive for the EU to behave rationally," he said, referring to what he called the bloc's "democratic deficit."

The Lisbon Treaty that is to streamline decision-making in the enlarged EU was so hard for him to swallow that he refrained from signing it on behalf of the Czech Republic in December 2007.

Free-marketeer Klaus has also failed to please businessmen as it became clear that he does not support a speedy entry to the eurozone. "I am convinced that it is not (advantageous) for us now," he said. "We are only making money on not being there."

Yet Czechs have rated Klaus, a well-dressed sportsman, as a popular president during his first five-year term in office.

Perhaps the post, which is laden with symbolism and ceremonial grandeur, has rubbed down his edges -- at least in the eyes of the public.

"Our presidents have a monarchic role. They are seated at the Prague Castle. Theirs is an above-standard position," political scientist Tomas Lebeda said.

Or perhaps it is his grasp - stemming from his own unglamorous Trabi years -- of what weighs upon ordinary citizens.

"On one hand he is an elitist, academic type, who has strong opinions and is not afraid to voice them," the Lidove Noviny daily cited Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra as saying.

"On the other hand he very well grasps the mentality of the Czech nation ... He knows what that life entails and understands it even if he himself sticks markedly above the horizon," Vondra said.

DPA with Expatica

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