After six hours of intense debate, three rounds of voting and the hospitalization of two deputies, the parliament of the Czech Republic is no closer to choosing the country’s next president.
Incumbent president Vaclav Klaus is challenged by Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar, who received U.S. citizenship after fleeing his native Czechoslovakia while the country was a communist state.
The election should have been decided after three rounds of voting by the parliament on Friday. But six hours of debate over whether lawmakers would cast their ballots publicly or secretly delayed the start of the first vote until 8 p.m. Friday.
During the debates, two parliament members were taken to the hospital before voting took place – one for a heart arrhythmia and another for stress.
In the voting, Klaus received one more vote than Svejnar, but he didn’t achieve the necessary majority, forcing a second round of voting.
The second vote was also inconclusive, and there was concern about the way votes were tallied, said Michael Kraus, a professor of political science at Middlebury College and an adviser to Svejnar.
“There are serious allegations that in the second round the votes were miscounted and two votes that officially went to Klaus were actually votes for Svejnar,” Kraus said. “They didn’t keep records of how each deputy voted and it shows how pathetic it is when they can’t add up the votes correctly.”
Kraus said the election commission changed the voting process on Saturday for the third round of voting.
Klaus was one vote shy of the necessary 140 votes during the third round, with Svejnar receiving 113. Legislators will begin the process again on Friday, and new candidates will be able to enter the race.
The 26 Communist Party members in Parliament have cited concerns with both candidates and haven’t endorsed either. Communist Party members in the parliament, who did not vote in the third round, have suggested they will nominate their own candidate.
The Communists criticized Svejnar’s dual citizenship, which led him to promise he would relinquish his U.S. citizenship if elected. Still, many question his loyalty to the Czech Republic.
Svejnar still believes he can win the race.
“There is actually a good chance that I could win in the second election,” Svejnar said. “It really is a question of one or two votes going one way or the other.”
Klaus was nominated by the Civic Democratic Party, which he co-founded. His support comes from right-wing political parties. The CDP is the largest party, holding 45 percent of seats in parliament.
Svejnar was asked to run by members of the Green Party, which holds 2.5 percent of seats in parliament, and nominated by several members of center-left parties such as the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party.
Parties across the political spectrum support him and the leftist SDP, which holds about 30 percent of seats, officially endorsed him.
Czech officials now consider Svejnar, who officially entered the race on Dec. 14 as an underdog, a “formidable candidate.”
In December, only 28 percent of Czech citizens would have voted for Svejnar in a public election, according to a poll conducted by the Median Agency. The poll showed 43 percent would have voted to reelect the incumbent president.
Even though the Czech president isn’t elected by the public, Svejnar led an American-style campaign, spending a great deal of time speaking with the public.
A STEM poll conducted last week showed 55 percent of Czech citizens prefer Svejnar to Klaus.
Svejnar said he spoke with people in key areas of the country to better understand the opinions of the people and share his perspectives. He said the public support helped him win over lawmakers.
“The members of the parliament look over their shoulder to see what the public opinion is like,” Svejnar said. “It’s also clear that I’m a serious candidate in the sense that the president, who was supposed to be a shoo-in, could not manage to be elected in the first election.”
Klaus, along with many Czech politicians, has contended that Svejnar is not experienced enough in Czech politics to serve as president.
“There are 18 years behind me, on his side there is nothing,” Klaus said in a speech to students in West Bohemia, the Prague Daily Monitor reported.
In 2009, the president of the Czech Republic will serve a six-month term as president of the Council of the European Union. Svejnar said this election will be an important opportunity for the Czech Republic to become more involved with the EU. During his campaign, Svejnar has been critical of the incumbent president’s reluctance to fully integrate the country with the EU.
Svejnar said his service as economic advisor in the Czech Republic under former president Vaclav Havel and his study of economics has adequately prepared him for the role.
“It’s not like I don’t understand the country,” Svejnar said. “That was more a campaign rhetoric against me, to portray me as a foreigner who is not rooted here and therefore would not be a good representative of the country.”
Svejnar’s daughter, LSA senior Laura Svejnar, said the success of her father’s run surprised her.
“About three months ago, we didn’t really think he had a chance,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what he’s been able to do and the way people support him.”