Two weeks after Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar announced his candidacy for president of the Czech Republic, former Czech president Vaclav Havel has endorsed the University professor for the position.
Svejnar, a Czech native, served as economic advisor to Havel during his presidency. Havel served as the country’s first president following the collapse of the communist government in 1989. Svejnar drafted plans to establish a free market economy. He has since maintained an influential role in Czech economic policy.
Svejnar will run against Civic Democratic Party candidate Vaclav Klaus.
Svejnar, who was asked to run by the environmentally-focused Green Party in November, became an official candidate after he received formal nominations from 10 senators representing major political parties.
In the Czech Republic, the president is elected by parliament instead of the general public. Svejnar faces a challenge because the Civic Democrats hold 40 of the 81 seats in the senate. Svejnar would need to secure every other vote to gain the majority needed for a victory. As a result, his chances of winning the election depend on his ability to gain support from parties across the political spectrum.
Svejnar will spend the weeks leading up to the Feb. 8 election seeking the support of the Christian Democratic and Communist parties. The Communists have criticized Svejnar because he does not currently live in the Czech Republic and holds U.S. citizenship. Michael Kraus, a professor of political science at Middlebury College and a long-time friend of Svejnar’s, said the question of Svejnar’s residency could hurt him in the election. Several Czech publications have also said Svejnar will be hurt in the polls because his wife, Business Prof. Katherine Terrell, is an American.
Kraus said the support of the Social Democrats, the country’s major left-wing party, makes Svejnar a formidable candidate though.
Kraus is currently working in the Czech Republic as an advisor to Svejnar. Kraus said Svejnar’s goal if elected president of the Czech Republic, would be to revitalize the Czech economy.
“Svejnar is offering a new vision for his country,” Kraus said. “He believes he can bring more energy and transparency and contribute more based on his experience and international connections.”
The role of the Czech president is largely ceremonial, but if elected, Svejnar would be responsible for appointing the Prime Minister, judges and bank officials.
Terrell said Svejnar would serve as an international statesman and work to revitalize the country’s economy.
“He feels that he can bring a more modern and technical approach to the government,” Terrell said. “He wants to have more positive dialogue about the Czech Republic’s role in the European Union and the global economy.”
One of Svejnar’s primary goals would be the early adoption of the euro in place of the koruna – the Czech Republic’s native currency. Although the Czecg Republic joined the European Union in 2004, incumbent president Vaclav Klaus has resisted the switch to the euro.
A graduate of Cornell University and Princeton University, Svejnar holds degrees in economics and industrial and labor relations. His research focuses on economic growth in Eastern Europe and the impact of government policy on the performance of independent companies.
If elected, Svejnar plans to take a leave of absence from the University to serve a five-year term as president. Terrell said University President Mary Sue Coleman supports Svejnar’s candidacy and assured Terrell and Svejnar that they would retain their positions at the University regardless of the election’s outcome.