Jiri Dienstbier

Presidential race: Dienstbier popular but trailing

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ČSSD senator is affirmed as the most popular politician

ČSSD Deputy Chairman and Senator Jiří Dienstbier Jr.

A recent poll found that Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) Deputy Chairman and Senator Jiří Dienstbier Jr. is the country’s most popular politician, even as another survey finds him trailing in the race to replace President Václav Klaus next year.

In a CVVM agency poll released in late May, Dienstbier – the ČSSD’s presidential candidate – displaced Chamber of Deputies Speaker Miroslava Němcová (Civic Democrats, ODS), who had been the public’s preferred politician in the CVVM poll every month since October 2011. Some 42 percent of people expressed trust in Dienstbier, a growth of five percentage points on the previous month. Dienstbier also finished first in a recent popularity poll by the STEM agency.

“One has to be careful considering the results for ‘most popular politician,’ ” said Milan Znoj, a Charles University political scientist. “It’s more of an indication of which politician bothers people the least.”

Němcová is tied for second place in the CVVM poll with ČSSD Chairman Bohuslav Sobotka. Both were trusted by 39 percent of people. Foreign Affairs Minister and TOP 09 Chairman Karel Schwarzenberg finished fourth with 36 percent, and Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil (ODS) came fifth with 34 percent.

But Dienstbier’s general popularity has thus far failed to translate into support for him to succeed Klaus as head of state. Independent candidates Jan Fischer and Jan Švejnar continue to lead the way with 24.1 percent and 15.8 percent support, respectively, according to a Factum Invenio poll released June 1.

In that poll, just 5.9 percent of respondents said they would support Dienstbier for president, trailing among others Jana Bobošíková of the extra-parliamentary, populist Sovereignty party. The ODS has not yet chosen its candidate, with Senator Přemysl Sobotka and MEP Evžen Tošenovský as the party’s finalists.

“Those results can be misleading,” Znoj said. “For instance, you have two candidates for the ODS, and it’s obvious that in the end there will be only one. Or consider Švejnar; what is his position? Should he not take part in the election, Dientsbier’s numbers will be different.”

Klaus’ second term as president expires in March 2013. The election of his replacement is to take place in two rounds in January and February, in the first-ever direct public vote for president. Previously, the president was chosen by a vote among members of both houses of Parliament.

“I can see no reason why Dientsbier cannot be president,” Znoj said. “He has a reputation as a politician who seriously wants to fight corruption. He was active in resistance against the old structures in the Prague ČSSD. His weakness in many eyes is his relatively young age.”

– Filip Šenk contributed to this report.

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