U. Michigan Prof Considers Bid For Czech Presidency

This story was written by Julie Rowe, Michigan Daily
Come February, University of Michigan Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar could take a leave of absence to take over the presidency of the Czech Republic. Svejnar, a Czech citizen who has long been involved in Czech economic policy, is considering running for election to the post.

Because the Czech president is elected by the parliament rather than by the general public, Svejnar isn't going around shaking hands and kissing babies. Instead, he's talking to members of parliament in efforts to build a coalition that would allow him to win a majority in the election.

If 10 parliament members formally nominate Svejnar, he will become an official candidate to compete against incumbent president Vaclav Klaus in the February election. Klaus has the support of the right-wing Civic Democratic Party, which, with about 45 percent of all seats in the parliament, is the parliament's largest party.

Svejnar has the support of the centrist Green Party, which accounts for about 2.5 percent of seats in parliament, and the leftist Social Democratic Party, which holds about 30 percent of seats.

Svejnar was motivated to consider running for president by "his strong desire to help his country," said his wife, Business Prof. Katherine Terrell. Svejnar, who is currently in the Czech Republic discussing a potential run with Czech politicians, could not be reached for comment.

Terrell said the country's Green Party approached Svejnar about a month ago to ask if he would be interested in running. The environment-minded Green Party has opposed Vaclav Klaus, the incumbent president, because he denied that humans are responsible for climate change.

Because the Civic Democratic Party holds 40 of the 81 seats in the senate, Svejnar would need to secure every other vote to gain the majority needed for a victory. That means he needs to win the support of every other party in order to win the election.

Terrell said that could be a challenge because the remaining parties, including the leftist Communist Party and the conservative Christian and Democratic Union, range widely from one end of the political spectrum to the other.

"He would need to get the support of all of the very disparate parties from the far left to the far right behind him," she said.

The Czech president serves more of a ceremonial role than the president in the United States, serving as an international statesman and appointing the Prime Minister, judges and bank officials.

Despite living and working in the United States, Svejnar has remained involved with the Czech government and returns every several weeks to advise officials. He participated in discussions with members of the Czech press about economic matters, which has made him a relatively well-known public figure.

Svejnar has taken criticism for not living in the country, although he maintained Czech citizenship after leaving Czechoslovakia in 1970 to avoid the economic instability of the former communist government.

A graduate of Cornell University and Princeton University, Svejnar holds degrees in economics and industrial and labor relations. His research has focused on economic growth in Eastern Europe and the impact of government policy on the performance of independent companies.

After Czechoslovakia's communist government fell in the nonviolent Velvet Revolution of 1989, Svejnar began advising the Czech government on the transition from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy.

At that point, then-President Vaclav Havel asked Svejnar to serve as his economic advisor. Svejnar met with Havel once a month to discuss economic policy, later serving as an adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and ministers of the economy and finance.

One of Svejnar's primary goals would be the early adoption of the euro. The Czech Repblic joined the European Union in 2004 but has not decided to adopt the euro, instead sticking with its native currency, the koruna.

Michael Kraus, a professor of political science at Middlebury College and a long-time friend of Svejnar's, said that as president of the Czech Republic, Svejnar would aim to revitalize the Czech economy.

"As president of the Czech Republic, his main goal would be to enlist a team of people and to mobilize a consensus on returning the Czech Republic to being a leader of liberal democracy and economic power in Central Europe," Kraus said.

Slavic Languages Prof. Jindrich Toman, who teaches courses in Czech literature, supported Svejnar, saying he would be more capable of helping the country effectively integrate into the European Union. Toman also said the country needs to reform its health and pension systems.

"Professor Svejnar would not be in charge of bringing these reforms -- no president is -- but he can work with the parties to affect change," he said.

If elected, Svejnar would take a leave of absence from the University to live in the Czech Republic and would return to his research and teaching after serving as president, Terrell said. The president can serve up to two five-year terms.

Kraus said the decision whether to seek the post will be a tough one for Svejnar to make. In addition to teaching business, economics and public policy, Svejnar is the director of the University's International Policy Center.

"He's in an excellent position at the University of Michigan that would not be easy for him to part with," Kraus said.
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