Election The first direct presidential election in the history of the Czech Republic

Since 1989 the parliament of the Czech Republic has chosen country’s presidents. The first direct election in the history of the Czech Republic will take place on January 11-12, 2013. A possible second round will follow two weeks later.

Published on balticworlds.com on January 11, 2013

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Since 1989 the parliament of the Czech Republic has chosen country’s presidents. The first direct election in the history of the Czech Republic will take place on January 11-12, 2013. A possible second round will follow two weeks later.

There are nine candidates in the election:  Jana Bobošíková (chairwoman of the extra-parliamentary Soveregnity party); Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party, CSSD, and senator); Jan Fischer (independent, former Prime Minister 2009-2010); Tana Fischerová (independent, actress, writer and civic activist); Vladimir Franz (composer and artist); Zuzana Roithová (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL, Member of the European Parliament); Karel Schwarzenberg (TOP 09 leader, current Foreign Minister); Přemysl Sobotka (The Civic Democratic Party, ODS, Senate debuty chairman) and Miloš Zeman (The Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci, SPOZ, Prime Minister 1998-2002 and former CSSSD chairman).

According to the last poll that was published before the actual election, Miloš Zeman would gain the majority of votes, 25.1 %, followed by Jan Fischer by 20.1 % of votes. After these two favourites the next strongest candidates are Vladimír Franz (11.4 %), Karel Schwarzenberg (11.0 %) and Jiří Dienstbier (10.6 %). According to the poll, election turnout would be 69.3 percent. If no one gains the majority of votes, a second round will follow with two candidates.

Even though the direct election is the first of its kind in the country, the campaign has run calmly and has been visible mainly on media. Only a few public events have been organised by the candidates. The liveliest debates around the election took place already at the phase when the candidates had to collect enough signatures in order to stand for the election. The money invested on campaigns has differed enormously and has also been a matter of discussions. The sources of finances have been brought up in election debates. For example the poll leader Miloš Zeman has been alleged to have received money from sponsors who are suspiciously close to the Russian oil company Lukoil.  The support for the candidates has not straight-forwardly followed the party lines.

Czech public was long waiting for the decision of the Communist party about whom it would support. This was considered one of the key-factors influencing people’s opinions as party did not field its own candidate for the election. The Communist party was the second successful party in the last year’s regional election. However, the Communist party decided eventually not to announce its favourite among the candidates but instead only recommended to its supporters the two left-wing candidates, Jiří Dienstbier and Miloš Zeman.

Because of the change in the method of voting, television debates of presidential candidates have been a new phenomenon in the country. The debates have not been viewed merely positively. The commercial television broadcast Prima organised an entertaining television duel with only Zeman and Fischer – the opinion poll leaders. According to some analysts, the duel created a misleading image as if there would be only two candidates. 

The election campaign has brought to the fore a question about the role of and approach to contemporary history: does the country want to look at the past or the future? Politicising history will probably expand if Zeman and Fischer will face each other in the second round. Behind the popularity of Miloš Zeman, history plays an important role. Zeman identifies himself with the Velvet Revolution just like the two former presidents of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus. He was active in the Civic Forum at the time of the Velvet Revolution and thus symbolically represents the era of transformation from communism to capitalism. Moreover, when Zeman was the Prime Minister of the country in the turn of the 1990s and 2000s, Czech economy was growing and the social democratic party crucially increased its popularity. The fact that current President Klaus has announced his support for Zeman will probably have an impact on his success. Throughout Klaus’ presidency the two men have agreed at many levels.

However, a significant difference between Klaus and Zeman is that whereas Klaus is a known euro-sceptic, Zeman is not. Zeman supports the European integration and thinks that the Czech Republic should adopt the euro. Klaus has moreover gladly given the image of himself as someone with academic background. Unlike him or Havel, who was respected as a man of culture and an advocator of morals in society, Zeman is a casual man, down to earth, and known for his drinking habits and constant smoking. The ability to enjoy life and the wit Zeman presents are not negative factors in the broad Czech public. Zeman has furthermore remained aside from high politics in the time when corruption has become a serious problem in the country and many people are tired of how politics is practised. Miloš Zeman is the most experienced in politics of all candidates which works for his advance. He is highly confident and often rather arrogant in presenting himself in public especially towards journalists.

Of the two poll leaders, Jan Fischer is much less experienced in the world of politics – but also less corrupted than most of the people in Czech higher politics. He made his early career as a statistician and in 2003 he was appointed president of the Czech Statistical Office. After the vote of no-confidence to the government in 2009, Fischer became the Prime Minister. In his post he became popular and his popularity as a politician made him a strong candidate in the presidential election.  However, his personal history is a weapon for those who oppose him: he namely joined the communist party in the 1980s and left the party only in 1989. He has repeatedly explained and lamented this part of his personal history. 

Altogether, there is no incomparable candidate in the election. What is remarkable is that the election ends the era Václav Klaus, who in the last weeks of his ten years long presidency decided for a large amnesty which led to a much more heated discussion than the election of his successor.

  • by Riikka Nisonen

    PhD, is researcher in the Aleksanteri Instititute (The Finnish Centre of East European and Russian Studies) of the University of Helsinki. She recieved her PhD in history at the University of Tampere in 2012.

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  • Election coverage

    Baltic Worlds Election Coverage online is commenting on the elections taking place in the region.. The comments and analyses present the parties, the candidates and the main issues of the election, as well as analyze the implications of the results.

    Sofie Bedford, member of the scientific advisory board, is since 2015 arranging the election coverage.

    Contact: sofie.bedford@ucrs.uu.se