Presidential Candidates

An overview of the remaining candidates in the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election

On Friday January 11th and Saturday 12th, the Czechs will go to the polls in the country’s first direct presidential election. From the 20 hopefuls who applied, eight candidates remain.

The Fighter – Jana Bobošíková

Party: Suverenita (Sovereignty)
Political Position: Euroskeptic

Jana Bobošíková’s campaign slogan is “I will fight for you.” She comes across as the most openly anti-Europe candidate, including as part of her policy the restoration of border controls. Her campaign almost came to an abrupt end in December when the Ministry of the Interior decided to disqualify her. She appealed and the high court ruled in her favor.

Presidential Candidates

Her tenacity might not be enough to get her through to the second round. Apart from her anti-Europe stance, her politics have ranged all over the place. She started in politics in 2004 with the extra-parliamentary group NEZÁVISLÍ which had cooperated with the anti-communist Pravý Blok. Four years later, she was nominated by the communists as a presidential candidate.

The Young Gun – Jiří Dienstbier

Party: Social Democrats
Political Position: Center Left

Jiří Dienstbier is the youngest (43) and one of only three candidates nominated by parliament. The backing of the Social Democrats hasn’t done much to lift his approval above 10%.

Presidential Candidates

His program is solidly on the left with strong social policy and an opposition to neoliberalism. Though he has courted the support of the Communist Party (despite the fact his father was a dissident), he has not matched the popularity of the left’s other main candidate Miloš Zeman.

The Middle-Man – Jan Fischer

Party: Independent
Political Position: Centrist

Jan Fischer merged from political obscurity in 2009 to lead a caretaker government for a little over a year following the collapse of Miroslav Topolanek’s ODS lead coalition government. Much of his political credentials come from this short time in office.

Presidential Candidates

Fischer was until very recently consistently been at the top of the three main Czech polls, enjoying approval ratings from just under 20% to as high as 36%. Now his approval is in the low twenties but remains higher than most. He seems to be viewed as a safe bet – a self-proclaimed moderate with no party attachments. His policies contain something for everybody, mixing pro-business rheotic with some social policies. However, his reputation has been challenged by allegations concerning his then Minister of Defense Martin Barták and his planned renovation of the Military University Hospital (Ustřední vojenská nemocnice). And there’s the matter that he was a member of the Communist Party until 1989.

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The Dreamer – Taťana Fischerová

Party: Independent
Political Position: Center

Taťana Fischerová was a late entry into the presidential race. This actress and activist has had some political experience as an MP from 2002 – 2006. Her campaign is characterized for its resolute idealism with an emphasis on respect and creativity.

Presidential Candidates

This idealism, while criticized in the media, appeals to her core supporters. Moreover, when she speaks, she comes across as articulate and thoughtful and displays a genuine humility. However, it doesn’t seem to have struck a chord with the electorate at large. Her approval rating is around 5%.

The Avant-Gardist – Vladimír Franz
Party: Independent
Political Position: Center Left OR Far Right (depends on who you believe)

Most people probably know Vladimír Franz’s tattooed visage. It’s his politics they might be unfamiliar with or find hard to pin down. In his own words, this composer, artist and university lecturer is a champion of culture who wants to bring education, culture and tolerance to politics.

Presidential Candidates

His past reveals a different side. Some claim that Franz was a skinhead in his youth. His friend, the journalist Jiří X. Doležal stated that Franz’s desire was to infiltrate the movement and to reform them “into a positive social element”. Petr Bergmann offers an alternate view, stating that Franz is conservative, xenophobic and latently racist.

Franz certainly enjoys popularity among the young, receiving little over 40% of the vote in a mock-election among high school students. He also has the highest social media support with over 47 000 likes on Facebook. However, these numbers haven’t translated into more than 5 and 10% in the general public.

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The Doctor – Zuzana Roithová
Party – KDU-ČSL
Political Position: Center Right

Zuzana Roithová has run one of the more low key campaigns. This MEP has had no major scandals, problems with nomination or bodily modifications to draw much attention. Perhaps it’s her connection to KDU-ČSL which hasn’t elevated her popularity. KDU-ČSL has experienced sinking popularity which could be reflected in her popularity which is near the bottom.

Presidential Candidates

Her main position like with all the other candidates is that she stands against corruption. She also seems quite adamant about her opposition to allowing the communists in any future government.

The Count – Karel Schwarzenberg
Party – TOP 09
Political Position: Center Right

Of all the candidates Karel Schwarzenberg has – or had – one of the strongest brands. His face graced t-shirts, badges and hip flasks and his name was synonymous with a clean political record and high moral standing. At the moment, his reputation has lifted his popularity above 9-10% support.

Presidential Candidates

A couple of things could be working against him. At 75, he’s the oldest candidate and he has a reputation for sleeping in parliamentary sessions. There is also the problem of Miroslav Kalousek, TOP 09’s Minister of Finance, who doesn’t enjoy much confidence from the public and who Schwarzenberg publicly supports.

The Surgeon – Přemysl Sobotka
Party – Civic Democrats
Political Position: Center Right

Though he is the chosen candidate of ODS, the largest center-right party in the Czech Parliament, Přemysl Sobotka like the other party nominated candidates is quite behind the leaders.

Presidential Candidates

Compared to the current president who was once a member of his party, Sobotka is not such a hard-line Euroskeptic. His position is to maintain “Czech sovereignty in the heart of the European Union”. But he doesn’t see European federalization as a “road to salvation”.  Interestingly, one of the frontrunners does.

The Old Hand – Miloš Zeman
Party – Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci
Political Position: Center Left

Ten years ago, Miloš Zeman the former Prime Minister and head of the Social Democrats made a failed bid for the presidency. It was rumored some of his party voted against him. Since then, Zeman has been in the political wilderness. He left  ČSSD in 2007 and formed his own party – Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci, which never had much support.

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Presidential Candidates

Until now. Over the last few months, Zeman’s popularity has risen from 6% in one poll to 26.5% in one of the most recent, placing him just ahead of Fischer. But how? The man is famed for his arrogant and belligerent approach to opponents and journalists. He is an admitted Eurofederalist – which surely goes against the current mood. He has also courted the communists. Plus, say the name Zeman and people think Lukoil. Though he denies being on their payroll, the popular connection is an image problem.

The one thing he does have is leadership experience, which is what his nearest rival Fischer also has, albeit in limited form, and what the other candidates appear to not have to the same degree. Perhaps more than policy, leadership skills are what people are looking for.

And the winner is…

Before we get into that, it’s important to remember that whatever the policies of the candidate, he or she will be bound by the limitations of office and won’t be able simply implement his/her vision. Anyway, I’m not going to make any firm predictions, but if polls reflect the voting patterns – and Zeman and Fischer go through  – I can see one of two possibilities.

Fischer will gain from an anti-Zeman / anti-left vote. There are many more right candidates Fischer can gain from whereas Zeman would only stand to gain from Dienstbier. However, Fischer’s communist past will be a problem for some right wing voters.

In other words, it’s anyone’s guess at this moment.

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