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Radek John
May 12, 2010

Election 2010: A populist ready to fight

Former journalist, Radek John, presses for route to power

John, 56, says his party, Public Affairs, will not negotiate on any terms with the Communists.

Opening the mail is no longer a problem for Radek John, the leader of the Public Affairs (Věci veřejné, or VV) party.

“When I was an investigative journalist, I used to get hundreds of bullets in the post as death threats. As a party leader, I have not received any – at least, not yet,” he says. “I went into politics to change things. When I was a journalist, we would investigate corruption, do a big story and then, three days later, it would all be forgotten. Maybe as a politician I can change things.”

In the religion of politics, John, 56, could be described as a potential John the Baptist, ready to anoint a right-wing government with the small, but crucial, number of parliamentary seats his party is expected to win.

Coalitions are the adhesive that restores the fractured shell of Czech politics, but VV, founded in 2001, John says, is a glue that will only work in certain conditions.

“Political dinosaurs,” is how John describes the big-party politicians, and he seems to regard the political left, in particular, as heretics.

“We will not support a government that fails to adopt strong anti-corruption measures,” he said at his party’s gleaming but far from bustling Anděl offices. “We will not negotiate with the Communist Party or a coalition that needs the silent support of Communists. We are the only party in the Czech Republic that bars former communists from joining,” he said.

John may not have said it in as many words, but, short of using an image of Jiří Paroubek, the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) leader, on a dartboard, his words rule out any support, tacit or otherwise, for the largest party of the left.

At the same time, he is under no illusion that a right-wing coalition will be easy to build out of the rubble of a bitter election campaign. He predicts months of uncertainty with a distinct autumnal chill in the air and leaves falling from the trees before a government is sworn in. John has already pledged himself ready to getting rid of what he describes as the dinosaurs of the discredited Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

“Forming the coalition is going to be a huge problem. The country is divided 50-50” between right and left, he said. “It will be a long, difficult, bloody process before a government emerges in the fall.”

Any natural history buff can tell you it took only small changes to the environment to wipe out the dinosaurs, but the VV seems incapable of having a cataclysmic impact on the Czech political landscape, largely because of a vague but highly populist platform, which makes it hard to take the party seriously. With one of VV’s key issues, the figures simply do not add up.

“Our key aims are the budget and an anti-corruption package,” he said. “We agree with a tax increase for people with incomes higher than 145,000 Kč per month by 25 percent. When we heard the ČSSD’s proposal to raise taxes to 38 percent, we got concerned, because such a measure would threaten the economy.”

VV vows to slash next year’s budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP (forecasts for 2010 put the deficit at 5.3 percent of GDP). As part of the proposed tax increase on the rich, VV says it will generate 5 billion Kč in revenue. An analysis by the daily Hospodářské noviny found it would generate only 1 billion Kč in increased revenue. A VV proposal to slash public research and development financing by 80 million Kč accounts for the largest portion of proposed savings.

Statements by other VV candidates about the Roma minority issue have raised eyebrows in recent weeks as the public still seeks to grasp what the party is all about.

But John and VV are much less interested in the practicalities of governing than inspiring voters to choose an outsider.

Not surprisingly, John invokes another politician who campaigned on the vague idea of “change.”

“I respect how Barack Obama managed to wake up the American people before the election,” he said. “Of course, I do not compare myself to him, but, in this country, we need a politician with vision. Obama gave people hope. We need a similar figure.”

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

Public Affairs Party
Founded: 2001
Leader: Radek John
Policies:Center-right, fiscally conservative, wants to reduce state expenditure, including reducing the number of civil servants. Its platform also calls for the rejection of positive discrimination, forced eviction of those with chronic rent debts or regarded as social misfits, increased police patrols in problem areas and a crackdown on abuse of social payments and employment of foreigners
Controversies:Employed vigilante-style uniformed patrols in some parts of Prague to warn of "misfits." Patrol members wore iridescent vests with the VV slogan prominently displayed. The party said an accounting error was to blame for nearly 6 million Kč wrongly attributed to cash donations (illegal) in its annual report instead of transfers into the party's bank account. Transfers into bank accounts are legal

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