Czechs mulling choice of next president as date for election set

President Zeman’s second term in office will expire in March of next year and Czechs are already mulling who they will support as their next head of state in elections scheduled for January 13. I spoke to political analyst Jiří Pehe about the outlooks and whether the turbulent times we are living in will influence their choice.

“Well I think that especially the war in Ukraine may, to some extent, affect who people choose for their next president. Obviously, there is still a large degree of support for the Czech Republic’s assistance to Ukraine and quite a lot of concerns about the security situation, so all this may give some advantages to the candidates who are seen as being strongly pro-Western and who understand security issues.”

The list of candidates is not yet complete, although some are already campaigning. What do you think of the line-up so far? Are we looking at a strong set of candidates to choose from?

“I think that at this point we do not really have a strong set of candidates. It seems to me that, as in the past, the ruling coalition has failed to produce a viable candidate and although they keep promising to do so, time is running out. So at this point, I see only two or three viable candidates. The others are just people who decided to put their name on the line, so to speak, but who have almost no chance of succeeding.”

According to various polls, Czechs have a great deal of respect for Slovakia’s president Zuzana Čaputová. But are they ready to elect a woman to the top post in Czechia and is there a strong female candidate on the horizon?

Danuše Nerudová | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

“The only relatively strong female candidate is Danuše Nerudová, who is an economist. And I think that what a lot of Czechs really value about Čaputová is her human rights background, her experience with various human rights cases and her engagement in civil society, which, unfortunately, is not entirely the case of Danuše Nerudová. So I am afraid that at this point there is no female candidate here with a similar profile.”

Who do you see as the hot contender for the top post?

Petr Pavel | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“At this point, it seems to me that the strongest candidate is General Petr Pavel, who is criticized by at least part of the government camp for his communist past. But opinion polls keep showing that at this point he is the only candidate who could defeat ex-premier Andrej Babiš, if Babiš decides to run –and we all know it is very likely that he will. It cannot be ruled out that there will be another candidate who will surprise us, but as I said, time is running out and there do not seem to be any big surprises in the offing.”