The ideal Czech president? Experienced, assertive but diplomatic, and non-partisan

Miloš Zeman

Czech presidential elections are still three years away, provided Miloš Zeman finishes his second term. But candidates hoping to succeed him should already start building their “brand” at least two years before voters head to the ballot box, experts say. A new poll sheds light on the qualities Czechs want in their next head of state.

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio
According to a new survey by the market research agency STEM / MARK, most voters want their next president to have practical experience in politics, but not be tied to any one party or beholden to special interests. But it’s the candidate’s character that seems to matter most, says analyst Jan Burianec.

“We asked about their ideal candidate. It turns out having political experience and vigour are considered really important. The person should be more or less non-partisan and have a dominant personality. … What they really don’t want is a president who is vulgar, strongly tied to a political party or backed by lobbyists.”

Asked who should be president in 2023, nearly 6 in 10 respondents could name a specific person – mostly seated politicians with high name recognition. Men were more likely to name a specific person than women, while supporters of Miloš Zeman were harder pressed to name a preferred successor.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
“What is relatively polarizing is whether the person is liberal or conservative, an optimist or realist, an intellectual or populist. People don’t expect an ideal candidate, but they do cling to some things more than others.”

Among the most frequently mentioned names were Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, and several candidates in the 2018 contest: chemist Jiří Drahoš, diplomat Pavel Fischer, and oncologist Marek Hilšer – all independents subsequently elected to the Senate.

Hilšer this week officially announced his candidacy. Petr Pavel, a popular retired Czech Army general, has said he would consider a run. Conservative voters also named Václav Klaus, Jr., the son of a former president.

And how would respondents feel about electing a female head of state? STEM / MARK analyst Jan Burianec again:

Zuzana Čaputová,  photo: Slavomír Frešo,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“As for gender, respondents, more or less, would rather have a man in office. But if a charismatic woman appears, she has high chances. A female candidate could even bring people less politically active to the polls.”

Most respondents said a candidate’s gender is not a key factor. Among the women mentioned is MP Miroslava Němcová, the former lower house speaker who made a bid to lead the centre-right Civic Democrats; and nuclear physicist Dana Drábová.

Neighbouring Slovakia – the other half of the former Czechoslovakia, and a more traditionally conservative nation in general – just elected its first female president, Zuzana Čaputová. Could that have an influence here?

“In the last Czech presidential elections, there were only men. A woman could fulfil qualities people find missing in the president, someone with charisma and a diplomatic manner who could unite the country.”

The next instalment of the STEM / MARK survey is due to be published in a week, and the agency plans to issue regular updates up until the 2023 contest.