Europe

Czech Republic profile - Leaders

  • 8 December 2016
  • From the section Europe

President: Milos Zeman

Czech President Milos Zeman Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Milos Zeman has an outspoken and often polarising style

Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman won the first direct Czech presidential election in January 2013 as the candidate of his own small centre-left grouping, the Party of Civic Rights.

Like his predecessor, Vaclav Klaus, Mr Zeman thrives on confrontation and has not hesitated to exercise his presidential authority, even when this has meant entering into conflict with the Czech government.

After a long political career - including his stint as a prime minister in 1998-2002 - Mr Zeman quit the Social Democratic and effectively retired from politics in 2003 in response to his loss to Vaclav Klaus Klaus in the presidential election.

Political analysts attributed his 2013 comeback to his harnessing of discontent among older and poorer voters with the Necas government's handling of the economic downturn.

But he is less popular with younger and better educated Czechs, who regard his election and subsequent performance with some dismay.

Mr Zeman is a divisive figure, especially on account of his tendency to express his views - which are often at variance with government policy - in colourfully trenchant terms.

He has irked many people - both within the country and among the Czech Republic's western allies - by defending Russia's stance on Ukraine and by voicing opposition to the western sanctions against Russia.

In November 2015, Mr Zeman marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of the 1989 revolution by sharing a platform with an anti-Islamic group.

Prime Minister: Bohuslav Sobotka

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Sobotka has supported EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis

Social Democratic party leader Bohuslav Sobotka became prime minister after a 2013 snap election triggered by the fall of the centre-right government of Petr Necas over a spying, sex and bribery scandal earlier in the year.

After Necas's ouster, President Milos Zeman initially appointed a former aide, Jiri Rusnok, to head a government of experts, but the administration was deeply resented by the main political parties, and MPs withdrew their confidence and voted to go to the polls.

The Social Democrats emerged as the largest party in parliament, but without a majority, and formed a coalition with the pro-business ANO party and the Christian Democrats.

On his appointment, Mr Sobotka pledged to end the political gridlock that had paralysed policy making for seven months and revive economic growth following the country's longest recession on record.

He promised to boost the economy by reversing the former centre-right government's austerity measures.

Mr Sobotka also expressed a desire to see the Czech Republic play a fuller role in EU politics, after the euro-sceptic course pursued by centre-right governments for most of the previous decade.

He has been much more supportive of the EU line on Ukraine than President Zeman. Although initial reservations about the sanctions against Russia, he eventually backed them.

A trained lawyer, Mr Sobotka has been a member of parliament since 1996 and served as finance minister in 2002-6. He joined the Social Democrats in 1989 and has led the party since 2011.