Three months after the parliamentary elections, won by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman currently facing fraud charges, the Czechs have once again headed to the ballots. This time to select their President for the next five years. And never before, in post-cold war Czech Republic, has the split in the national thinking been more visible.
Too much fuss?
The constitutional role of the President in the Czech Republic is rather ceremonial and implies limited competencies. However, since the establishment of the independent Czech Republic, the President sets the tone of the foreign policy and either guides the country towards the West or, as was the case of Miloš Zeman, closer to Russia and China. The head of state rarely acts in alignment with the official policy laid down by the government. To an unexperienced eye of the observer, the Czech President represents the flagship for the country´s international course.
What´s at stake?
The European leaders are watching this election with a glimpse of hope of gaining a pro-Western liberal partner in Central and Eastern Europe. During his presidency, Mr. Zeman too often set foot on the Chinese soil, offering his nation to the communist leadership as the “gate to Europe”, and bowed to Russian leadership in order to close dubious deals. Angela Merkel, the leader of the Czech Republic’s largest trading partner, surely didn´t see German flags hanging along the road during her state visit to Prague. What is more, the current President´s Eurosceptic voice was in tune with the V4 partners, especially in the matter of migration. Despite his strong opinion on the quotas, the rival candidate in the second round of elections, Mr. Jiří Drahoš, may ease talks at the European negotiating table. The well-mannered academic presents, in fact, the antidote to Zeman’s vulgar and often vague rhetoric, leaning to populism. The election of Mr. Drahoš may return decency to the office and enable the Czech Republic to position itself as a trustworthy partner to be reckoned with.
What will the outcome be?
The final result will highly depend on the ability of Mr. Zeman to persuade the supporters of the SPD, the populist anti-immigrant party led by Tomio Okamura, to cast a vote and on the attractiveness of Mr. Drahoš for the supporters of the first-round candidates, who have assumed a definite anti-Zeman attitude. It is believed to be a close race with polls slightly favouring the current President. This result would once again be a major hit to the Czech liberals who have been on a steady rise. Whatever the outcome may be, once the Olympics commence, the Czech Facebook policy experts will just grab another beer and turn into hockey coaches. At least till the inauguration blame-game.
Author: Petra Adamková