Prague - After Petr Pithart announced he would not run for president next year as he saw no point in fighting a battle with a foregone conclusion, there seem to be only two potential known candidates left for challenging the incumbent president Václav Klaus.
One of them is the chairman of the Czech Academy of Sciences Václav Pačes and the other is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Jiří Dienstbier.
All things considered, Mr Pačes seems to represent the only at least remotely serious challenge to Mr Klaus.
If both leftist parties in the parliament, i.e. Social Democrats and Communists, together with the Greens and the liberals in the Senate manage to rally behind a single candidate, they only have to convince some 15 Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) to make sure their man (or woman, as the contest is still open) wins.
The apparent impossibility to find any other viable candidate makes Mr Pačes the likely choice of the anti-Klaus coalition at this point as he is the first among the known potential candidates who can garner votes both from the communists and the right-leaning senators like Karel Schwarzenberg or Martin Mejstřík.
|PRESIDENTIAL CARDS ON THE TABLE|
|Votes for Klaus||128|
|Civic Democrats (ODS)||122|
|SNK Senate Caucus||6|
|Votes for another candidate||127|
|Social Democrats (ČSSD)||85|
|Senate Club for the Open Democracy (KOD)||7|
|Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL)||24|
|Deputies Melčák a Pohanka (both split from ČSSD)||2|
What will the boss say?
Chances of Mr Pačes are waning at the moment among the social democrats. "His sincere answers from one topic to another cannot curry favor with the Left," says political scientist Lukáš Jelínek, pointing out that the academician is not vocal against the current government's public spending reform and considers the referendum on the American radar base in the Czech Republic a bad idea.
Whether the social democrats bite the bullet and learn to live with Mr Pačes's views depends on what their boss Jiří Paroubek has to say after he returns from China at the end of September.
Even the communists are open to the idea of supporting him at the moment. Deputy chairman of the party Jiří Dolejš says KSČM is more interested in the future president´s ability to remain non-partisan rather than analyzing his views.
"We do not want to come up with our own candidate at this moment, because that would be sending a signal nobody stands a chance against Mr Klaus in the first round," says Jiří Dolejš.
The incumbent president is assured of his victory in the Senate where ODS holds majority. If KSČM were to field their own candidate, it would suffice to secure backing of six more deputies in the lower chamber for Mr Klaus to make sure the founder and chairman emeritus of Civic Democrats gets elected in the first round in both chambers.
The Senate Deputy Speaker Petr Pithart's Monday decision not to contest the election leaves Mr. Pačes firmly in the game. Pithart's candidacy was recommended by the Christian Democrats' leader and Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek. If he were to run, he would make it harder for the anti-Klaus coalition to fish in the christian democratic waters.
With KDU-ČSL lacking their own candidate, Paroubek and the leader of the Greens Martin Bursík can try to sell them Mr Pačes or some other contender.
Simple election mathematics shows the presidential contest will be decided by the votes of 24 Christian Democrats. "If there is a single candidate standing against Mr Klaus, it is possible some of the Christian Democrats will support him," opines political scientist Miroslav Mareš.
Jiří Paroubek can still decide to field a partisan candidate. "That would make Jiří Dienstbier a likely choice," says political scientist Jelínek.
Such a scenario would smell of emergency though as ČSSD would be stuck with a gigantic task of having to convince other parties to support their candidate.
"A partisan candidate would make it easier for Christian Democrats to switch their allegiance to Mr Klaus," predicts political scientist Mareš.
"(But) even if there is a non-partisan candidate, I would not put my money on him. And if there is none, Klaus's victory is all but certain," he adds.