First direct presidential election set for January 11, 2013

Photo: Kristýna Maková

In January 2013, Czechs will for the first time in history elect their president. Polling stations will open on January 11 for the first round of voting, the second round will take place two weeks later, the speaker of the Czech Senate has announced. Twenty-five people have so far expressed interest in running for the office of the Czech president, but only six of them have to date met the legal requirements to become Václav Klaus’s successor.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Some presidential hopefuls launched their campaigns months ago but it has only now become clear when the actual election will be held. The speaker of the Czech Senate, Milan Štěch on Monday announced that the first round of voting will be held on Friday, January 11 and Saturday, January 12. If no candidate receives a majority, two candidates with the most votes will advance to the run-off, second round. That will take place two weeks after the first round, on Friday, January 25 and Saturday 26.

The Speaker of the Senate Milan Štěch, who is under the Constitution entitled to set the date for the presidential election, chose the first available date. As he explained, any later term would collide with some schoolchildren’s spring holidays which would make it difficult for their parents to vote.

Jan Fischer
Twenty-five people have to date announced they would run for office but only six have met the conditions set down by the Constitution: either to collect 50,000 signatures in support of their bid, or get nominated by a group of 10 senators or 20 MPs. Those who met the requirements include Czech Foreign Minister, and head of the TOP 09 party Karel Schwarzenberg, deputy speaker of the Senate, Civic Democrat Přemysl Sobotka, Social Democrat Senator Jiří Dienstbier, former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman, another former prime minister Jan Fischer, and ex-MEP Jana Bobošíková.

Some of the candidates have already launched their election campaigns but political analyst Jiří Pehe expects that things will get more interesting later on in the race.

“In general, I think the campaign will become much more interesting before the second round. In the first round, the candidates will simply present their own profiles, their own views and ideas. But in the second round, they will somehow have to deal with the other contender and at that stage, the campaign will become much more intense.”

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
Opinion surveys mostly favour Jan Fischer and Miloš Zeman but political analyst Jiří Pehe says that no matter who becomes the next Czech president, his or her position will be very different from that of their predecessors in office, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus.

“The next president will be what I would call the first post-revolutionary president. What I mean by this is that both Václav Havel and Václav Klaus were the products of history so to speak. They were important figures in their own right; they had constitutional powers on the one hand but they had also a lot of informal influence.

“The next president will have to be much more down-to-earth and will play a much less prominent role than the roles played by Václav Havel and Václav Klaus.”

Miloš Zeman
Just like in the general elections, Czech expats living abroad will also have a chance to cast their ballots in the first ever presidential election. To be able to do so, those with permanent residence in the Czech Republic will have to ask the local authorities for a voting card. Those without will have to register with the Czech embassy a consulate no later than 40 days before the election.

The choice of date for the first round of the presidential election also means that the country’s public broadcasters – Czech TV and Czech Radio – will start broadcasting campaign video and audio clips on December 26, at a time when many Czechs are glued to their TV screens watching fairy tales and other Christmas programming. Marketing experts believe this might raise the interest of the public in what the individual candidates have to offer, and also eventually increase the turnout at the polls.