Amid the disturbing results of the recent Czech senate and regional elections, which included massive success for the Communist Party, there was at least a slimmer of hope. While many Czechs unfortunately viewed the poll as a chance to show their displeasure in the current government (instead of taking a closer look at the failures of their local authorities), some enlightened folks decided to use this as an opportunity to make a statement for those rare souls among the current crop of politicians who appear to be honest and good. Those included Jiri Pospisil, a former justice minister, who won the regional elections in Plzen; until he was pushed out this summer, Pospisil had been attempting to reform the judiciary and the attorney general’s office, and the votes that he received were a clear indication that the public, at least in the Plzen region, had not forgotten.
But I want to talk about Libor Michalek. As you might recall, Michalek was a fairly anonymous state official until late 2010. when he went public with allegations of kickbacks and manipulated tenders at the State Environment Fund, which he was heading at the time. Government officials attempted to smear his name, and he eventually lost his job. But he won a new anti-corruption award for his whistleblowing, and his public appearances and comments convinced a large number of people of his integrity and, yes, bravery to stand up to the normal, behind-the-scenes machinations of the powers-that-be. I interviewed him at the time (see video here), and I became a believer as well. The guy seems legit.
So I was both heartened and worried when I heard that he declared for the Senate elections this summer, backed by a coalition of the Greens, the Christian Democrats, and the Pirate Party — heartened because it’s great when people like that don’t get discouraged and want to change things, but worried that he’d be blown away in a confrontation with the entrenched campaign machines of the dominating parties. And I worried some more when I ran into Michalek as he handed out leaflets close to the TOL office. I asked him how it was going, and he said that he had been encouraged by the turnout at a big, initial rally, but things had since tailed off. It was hard to tell if he was just being cautious or setting himself up to be less disappointed if he didn’t win.
But not only did Michalek easily win the first round, he garnered over 74 percent of the votes cast in the second round. Yes, not many people turned out for that second round (he got around 11,800 votes), but, still, that’s a lot of committed people that joined together to defeat the favored candidates of the country’s main political parties. The Pirate movement is even claiming that he’s the first pirate ever elected to a national parliament. That’s probably taking things a bit far (as I understand it the Pirates were just one of the three parties to support his bid), but this could become a big deal. Michalek is already contemplating whether he should ride this momentum and try to get nine other senators to nominate him as a presidential candidate (he wouldn’t then need the 50,000 signatures normally necessary, a practical impossibility until the 6 November deadline). The country’s first direct presidential election will be held early next year.
I’ve already read some criticism (here, in Czech) that Michalek is even considering a run. His first priority should be to serve the voters that elected him and complete a term in the Senate, that line of thinking goes. It would be a better for him to prove himself, then go for the one of the highest offices in the land. OK, I get it. That makes sense. But with the main choices an uninspiring former head of the Statistical Office who was a member of the Communist Party (Jan Fischer) and the buffoonish former head of the Social Democrats who oversaw a very corrupt era (Milos Zeman), is it really such a bad idea?