Czech televised discussion features one presidential candidate, two presidential spokespeople - and a ficus
On 2 January, Jaromír Soukup's "Arena" discussion program on the Barrandov cable television channel was not attended either by candidate Jiří Drahoš or by former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (Civic Democratic Party - ODS), who is also running. Soukup confirmed to the audience that those candidates refused to attend because they were bothered by the participation of Jiří Ovčáček, who is the sitting president's spokesperson.
Czech President Miloš Zeman said in March of last year that he would not participate in any discussion programs prior to the elections for the head of state this month. The only actual candidate in the studio was entrepreneur and lyricist Michal Horáček.
The discussion panel was also augmented by Petr Hájek, a former spokesperson for former Czech President Václav Klaus, who was an unadvertised addition, and Soukup emphasized that the program should not be considered a presidential "debate". Ovčáček also brought a ficus with him onto the set, saying that it was harmless, opinion-free, and would stay put wherever it was planted.
"This is a good replacement for some of those who didn't come today," he said before presenting Zeman's standpoint on the issues raised. While he did not name who the ficus was "replacing", it was apparent to the audience that the stunt was aimed at candidate Drahoš.
On the other hand, Ovčáček expressed appreciation for Horáček participating in the program. Candidate Drahoš had previously communicated that attending a "debate" among the presidential candidates in which Zeman would be represented by his spokesperson was unnecessary, in his view.
Candidate Topolánek posted generally to Facebook on the day of the broadcast stating that Zeman should finally stand up "like a man" to the other candidates and defend his ideas and vision to them. "I do not consider it possible for any democratic candidate for president, Miloš Zeman included, to avoid televised debates in this cowardly way and to send a Nývlt in his place," Topolánek said, referencing a character from the film "Jára Cimrman ležící, spící" ("Jára Cimrman Lying, Sleeping"), who is a double of Archduke Ferdinand.
Candidate Horáček had previously emphasized that a presidential candidate must fight for his position, his principles, and his vision everywhere. "I would welcome it if Miloš Zeman would face off against me in person," he posted to Facebook.
"I get that he's incapable of that, though, so he sends his 'vice president' instead," Horáček posted. Candidate Marek Hilšer called on his fellow candidates to insist that Zeman be represented by an empty chair.
"He fears confrontation," was Hilšer's assessment of the incumbent. Other candidates include former diplomat Pavel Fischer, musician Petr Hannig, the president of the Association of Defense and Security Industries Jiří Hynek, and former Škoda Auto head Vratislav Kulhánek.
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