On the eve of the first day of the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential elections on January 11 2013, two candidates, both former prime ministers, were seen by opinion polls as the frontrunners – Miloš Zeman and Jan Fischer.
The election is being held to choose a successor to Vaclav Klaus, whose term of office as the Czech president ends on March 7.
Campaigning closed on January 10, and polls were due to open at 2pm local time on Friday. Voting continues on January 12. If a second round is necessary, it will be held on January 25 and 26.
A few days before the election, a poll by the ppm agency gave Zeman (68), a former leader of the Czech Social Democrat Party and a former Speaker of parliament who was prime minister from 1998 to 2002, would get about 25 per cent of the vote. Fischer (62) a career statistician and former head of the country’s statistics office and who was caretaker prime minister in 2009 and 2010, would get just more than 20 per cent, the poll said.
Attracting much media attention and, according to the surveys, third place in the polls is composer Vladimir Franz, noted for his tattoos and his potential – so media reports quoting observers said – as a possible kingmaker in a second round depending on his decision on declaring support for the final two rivals.
Local media said that Zeman was seen as the winner of a one-on-one television debate a few days before voting was due to start. According to Radio Prague, experts and the public gave Zeman higher marks, saying that he seemed more confident and better prepared. In the debate, Zeman and Fischer were also given questions in English and Russian to test their language skills.
Fischer is standing on a pro-business platform, and his programme includes pushing for a bill regulating lobbying and requiring public office-bearers named in the constitution to file property declarations. His detractors attack, among other things, his former membership of the communist party.
Zeman, a leftist who is being backed in the election by Klaus – who defeated him in a presidential election a decade ago – is seen by supporters as a forthright, incorruptible figure. While neither is a Euroskeptic, neither is a cheerleader for the European Union and either, as head of state, might reasonably be expected to generate some controversy in Czech public life.
(Photo: Mateusz Dutkiewicz/sxc.hu)