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Jiri Rusnok, ex-finance minister, named Czech Prime Minister

52-year-old is seen as a long-term protege of leftist President Milos Zeman

Gulf News

Prague: Jiri Rusnok, a grey-haired economist and pension fund guru named Tuesday as the Czech Republic’s new prime minister, comes to power at the head of a technocratic government in the wake of an unprecedented recession and corruption scandal.

The 52-year-old former finance minister is seen as a long-term protege of leftist President Milos Zeman, and has acted as one of his top economic advisers.

But he has also advised right-wing prime minister Petr Necas, who stepped down over a corruption scandal that saw his chief of staff and alleged lover indicted for bribery and abuse of power.

“Both roles are voluntary,” Rusnok said in an interview in May.

Any way of bridging the political divide in the Czech Republic “benefits the country,” he added, calling for clear policies as a way out of the republic’s 18-months of recession - its longest-ever.

Born on October 16, 1960, Rusnok graduated from the University of Economics in Prague in 1984.

With the command economy still in force under communism in the former Czechoslovakia, Rusnok began his career at the state planning commission.

He later worked at the now obsolete ministry for strategic planning and also the ministry of labour and social affairs.

After communism fell in 1989, he became involved in the trade union movement before taking up a post as deputy labour minister in August 1998.

Earlier that year, he had joined the Social Democrats party - led by mentor Zeman - but left in 2010 after becoming disillusioned, insisting its leaders were “fooling the nation with fairy tales that will cause a disaster”.

He served a stint in 2001 to 2002 as finance minister under Zeman but left politics in March 2003 to join Dutch banking and insurance group ING, rising to become the top executive for its Czech pension fund in 2006.

Until last year he also headed the Czech Association of Pension Funds that brings together private Czech-based pension funds.

He blames his dove grey hair on genetics rather than the stresses of politics.

“I started going grey in grammar school,” Rusnok once told Czech Radio, where he also spoke of his wife and three children.

“That was a stroke of good fortune, I’ve been lucky to have a family like this and a wife who wanted me.”