Voting this past weekend saw the presidential election candidates narrowed down to the incumbent president, Milos Zeman, and the challenger, Jiří Drahoš, who will battle it out for the presidency in a fortnight. But who are they? What do they stand for? Who will win? And what does it matter?
What does it matter?
The election will determine the President of the Czech Republic for the next 5 years. Whilst the presidency of the Czech Republic is more of an ambassadorial figurehead position than an actual political player, the president does get involved in politics from time to time and can have an effect on the government’s policy making decisions. The president is also pivotal in forming governments and choosing Prime Ministers. The current president, Milos Zeman, has had a more active role in politics than his predecessor and has been accused of acting unconstitutionally in doing so.
Who are they?
Firstly, almost all of us know the current President of the Czech Republic; Milos Zeman. Zeman won the last election, narrowly beating Karol Schwarzenberg in a tense election which saw Prague voters go one way and everybody else in the Czech Republic go the other. Prague voters turned out in hordes to support Schwarzenberg, but it wasn’t enough to get him elected.
Zeman is often seen as a controversial figure, but he does enjoy a huge pull amongst the working class and rural dwelling families and villagers. Zeman has the backing of the controversial Prime Minister, billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, and another controversial politician, leader of the seemingly racist SPD party, Tomio Okamura. Oh, and the communists back him as well.
Ivan Bartos, leader of one of the biggest political parties, The Pirates, has come out in support of Drahoš, as have almost all the other challengers who did not get through the last round. Former diplomat Pavel Fischer won 10.23%, entrepreneur Michal Horacek 9.18 percent, Dr Marek Hilser 8.83%, former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek 4.30%, and former Skoda head Vratislav Kulhanek 0.47%, have all expressed their support to Drahoš and encouraged their supporters to vote for him.
Drahoš has his powerbase in Prague and other urban areas, whilst Zeman gets the majority of his support from rural areas and villages.
What do they stand for?
Many in the media are labelling this battle as an East Vs West scenario. Zeman is well known to be pro-Russia in his views and policies, whilst Drahoš is more of a pro-Western candidate who would push for closer ties with the European Union and the USA.
Zeman has often spoken of his deep admiration for former French president, Charles de Gaulle, a divisive statesman who remodeled the French constitution to his liking, and many think Zeman has similar aims whilst Drahoš is said to want to respect the constitution to the letter.
Zeman was the only European leader who pledged his backing to President Donald Trump, where other European leaders sidestepped questions and failed to categorically support or denounce Trump or Clinton. Obama had snubbed Zeman because of his well-known right-wing views and anti-immigration platform, but is yet to visit the White House under Trump, although he claims to have been invited.
“The first round result is a heavy blow for Miloš Zeman, although he won it formally. It shows he doesn’t have much more where to take the votes,” said political scientist Josef Mlejnek. “They will try to picture [Drahoš] as a friend of migrants, an agent of the EU.”
Who will win?
Zeman won the first round of voting comfortably, beating Drahoš by almost 12% of the total vote. Whilst this seems to be an insurmountable amount for Drahoš to recoup, 30% of the votes that went to unsuccessful candidates could be heading to him as the candidates pledged their support for Drahoš.
“The final is still ahead of us, and that’s what matters,” Drahos said.
One of the biggest enemies of Zeman is his health. At 73 he is no spring chicken and has looked increasingly fatigued in recent domestic and international appearances, leading many of his opponents to question his ability to lead for another 5 years. Zeman has defended his health and says he is ready, although he is also known to be a heavy drinker and smoker.
The next round of voting will be held on the 26th – 27th January
The Prague Geezer prediction:
It will be closer than analysts first thought. Drahoš to win by a small margin. Zeman will get drunk and say something outrageous. Drahoš will bring back some much-needed decorum and respect to the Czech Republic’s reputation in international politics.