Saturday, 24 March 2018

LN: Zeman's speeches split society, aim at his re-election

28 December 2017

Prague, Dec 27 (CTK) - Czech President Milos Zeman, whose five-year term in office expires in March, has divided society and continued campaigning for his re-election in his Christmas messages to citizens, Jaroslav Veis writes in daily Lidove noviny (LN) on Wednesday.

After becoming president in 2013, Zeman discontinued the 64-year-long tradition of New Year Day's addresses of presidents, and resumed the previous practice of Christmas addresses. To explain the step, he said he no longer wants to outline objectives and tasks to be met but to render accounts and assess the past year, Veis writes.

By his step, Zeman also wanted to distinguish himself from his predecessors in the presidential post, but in fact his December 26 addresses have differed from those his predecessors gave on January 1 only by the date, Veis writes.

In his addresses, Zeman has shunned spiritual issues, let alone Christmas ones, which, nevertheless, is acceptable in a situation where the Czech Republic is a secular state, Veis writes.

Zeman's addresses have always consisted of three parts, devoted to economic, domestic and foreign affairs, Veis writes and further analyses the first and the latest fifth of Zeman's Christmas addresses.

Zeman started his first address, on December 26, 2013, by stating that since his March inauguration of president he had "had 620 meetings with citizens in town squares, with employees in company seats, with students at schools, with mayors, regional governors, town and regional councillors, ambassadors, deputies, senators, ministers and, besides foreign statesmen, also members of various civic organisations," Veis writes.

If Zeman had simply said he had launched a campaign for his re-election, it would not have sounded that good, Veis writes.

Afterwards, Zeman assessed his own fulfilment of promises. He said his previous vow to unite rather than divide the society was the most difficult to meet. He said he had established Jiri Rusnok's interim cabinet of unaffiliated experts in reaction to what he considered a deep rift in the society in its approach to the government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS).

In mid-2013, Necas's majority cabinet collapsed over a scandal of Necas's close aide. Zeman refused to appoint another ODS-led government and preferred an interim cabinet that ruled until the October 2013 early election.

Zeman's explanation of the step in his nearest Christmas message would be extremely naive, if not pronounced by Zeman, Veis writes, adding that since his inauguration, Zeman has "successfully" divided all what was divisible and even indivisible.

Zeman started with the Social Democrats (CSSD), with whom he wanted to settle old accounts. After the CSSD won the October 2013 general election, he had a secret meeting with the opponents of then CSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka to discuss his ousting as a next prime minister. The aim of the meeting, known as "the Lany coup," failed, however, Veis writes.

Zeman continued to assiduously set liberals from cities and people from the countryside against each other, as well as the West and the East, the European Union and the Visegrad Four group (V4 - Prague, Budapest, Bratislava and Warsaw) and appealed to the opponents to the Brussels dictate. He has clearly succeeded in his divisive efforts, Veis writes.

This year, Zeman once again started his address with assessing the state of the economy. He praised the record low unemployment, low poverty rate and low income disproportions. Like in the previous years, he complained about low public investments and the shrinking investments in transport infrastructure, Veis writes.

As usual, Zeman also expressed his interest in the steepest possible growth of pensions (pensioners are becoming a strong group of voters), criticised the swelling state bureaucracy and some welfare benefits which he called ineffective, Veis writes.

He criticised the EU for being too accommodating to migrants and trying to force migrant quotas upon Czechs. He also criticised, though more mildly, NATO for not fighting Islamist terrorism resolutely enough, and he promoted Czech national interests, without specifying them, however, Veis writes.

For the first time since 2014, Zeman did not mention the importance of economic diplomacy and China as an economic partner for the Czechs to embrace. Not that Zeman's relation to China had cooled down. He omitted China due to the forthcoming Czech presidential race, in which he is seeking re-election, though he did not mention it at all in his speech. His worshipping of China might have discouraged even his ardent fans among voters, Veis writes.

Commenting on domestic affairs, Zeman said he believes that common sense will prevail over envious stupidity.

"We, too, hope that common sense will prevail, so that we need not feel ashamed for anyone," Veis adds, clearly alluding to the January direct presidential election and siding with those who do not wish the controversial Zeman's re-election.

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