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A Czech aristocrat takes to the country's pubs in a search for votes.by Lucie Kavanova 28 May 2010
PRAGUE | A number of small new political parties seem to be profiting from Czechs’ general discontent with the current political elite. In the leadup to the Czech parliamentary elections on 28-29 May, opinion polls suggest that at least two new parties, TOP 09 and Veci verejne (Public Affairs), will pass the 5-percent threshold needed to enter parliament. The former, founded only at the end of 2009, is expected to garner as much as 10 percent of votes. Regardless of TOP 09's ultimate success, the party has already injected some innovative approaches into the current political campaign, including a sophisticated multimedia and social media strategy.
One of TOP 09’s campaign novelties involves party leader Karel Schwarzenberg, a wealthy aristocrat and former minister of foreign affairs who is one of the country's most popular politicians. Over the past few weeks, he has been visiting local pubs for "Beer With Karel" events where anyone can sit down and debate the issues with the pipe-smoking Schwarzenberg. Politicians getting this close to the voters has virtually no precedent in Czech political campaigns.
Overall, the party has benefited greatly from Schwarzenberg's reputation for being trustworthy and statesmanlike. Still, some people continue to have doubts about Deputy Chairman Miroslav Kalousek, a wily former Christian Democrat leader whose name was linked to several suspect military contracts when he served as a Defense Ministry official in the 1990s. Czech commentators have speculated that Kalousek is actually the one pulling the party strings.
In our special report, we followed Schwarzenberg as he made the rounds on 24 May in two ordinary pubs on the outskirts of Prague.