Jiří Drahoš: a man with the right chemistry to be Czech president?

Jiří Drahoš, photo: CTK

Jiří Drahoš, a former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and a university chemistry professor, is considered to be the most serious rival to the incumbent Miloš Zeman in the presidential race. Mr Drahoš is running as an independent candidate and has collected more than 142,000 signatures in his support.

Jiří Drahoš,  photo: CTK
With his pro-NATO and pro-European views and reserved manners, Drahoš stands in stark contrast to the current head of state. In his programme he promises to respect the Constitution, to promote family and education and to re-open Prague Castle to the public.

Jiří Drahoš was among the first to announce his bid for the presidency in March 2017, just four days after he stepped down from the post of the head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Drahoš made the announcement to run for president in his hometown of Jablůnkov in North Moravia. He said the main reasons for his candidacy were worries about the state of Czech democracy, growing extremism, and a certain apathy he felt among Czechs towards basic democratic values.

Six months after he entered the race, Drahoš collected over 140,000 votes, the highest number of all the candidates. Although he is running as an independent, Drahoš has the support from the Mayors and Independents party, STAN, as well as the Christian Democratic Party.

Speaking in an interview for the Czech Television, Jiří Drahoš said he offers a unique combination as a scientist, rational thinking manager, and a person who is used to communicate with politicians and top state officials:

“I have a clear image of the Czech Republic as a democratic state with proud and self-confident citizens, a state which can take care of the weaker ones and provide equal protection and equal benefits in relation to the law.

“I want a secure state relying on its membership of NATO and a modern state which stresses education and the creativity of all its citizens, regardless of their level of education.

“It is a state which is not bureaucratic, which is here for its citizens and not for itself. And finally it’s a state that nurtures its culture and natural resources and ensures that hands it over to the next generation in better shape.”

Born on 20th February 1949 in Český Těšín in north Moravia, Jiří Drahoš spent most of his childhood in Jablunkov, where his mother lived and worked as a nurse. His father, also named Jiří, was a teacher.

He studied at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague and in 1972 he joined the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals at Czech Academy of Sciences. In March 2009, Drahoš was elected President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the country’s biggest and most prestigious scientific institutions, and ended his second term in the office in March 2017.

He has published more than 70 original papers and is the co-inventor of 10 international and 10 Czech patents. In 2012, he was awarded the State Medal of Merit of the First Grade for his service and contribution to science.

According to political analyst Jiří Pehe, Drahoš is first of all a decent candidate with moderate views, which are qualities that stand in stark contrast to what Mr Zeman represents:

Jiří Drahoš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“That is perhaps his most prominent quality, that he is just the opposite of Mr Zeman, who is abrasive, quite often arrogant and vulgar. So I think that is what makes Mr Drahoš a formidable candidate.

“Although he doesn’t have a lot of political experience, he is from the human point of view a candidate that people can imagine as the next president.

"On top of that I think that quite a lot of people are aware of the fact that the Czech presidency is constructed constitutionally in such a way that it is really not a difficult job to learn politically.

“The position of the prime minister is a political position, but the position of a president is not essentially political. So I think that given the example of Slovakia, where a non-politician Andrej Kiska became a very successful president, the lack of political experience is not to Mr Drahoš’s disadvantage.”

According to Jiří Drahoš, the president’s role is first of all to cultivate the political scene and represent the country abroad in a dignified matter. He should openly declare that the Czech Republic is part of the western world and highlight the necessity to be part of the European Union.

Drahoš opposes a referendum about Czech membership in the EU, arguing that important geopolitical questions should not be decided this way. He wants the Czech Republic to play an active role in discussions over the future of the EU.

While he supports European integration, he says the European Union should not impose ‘unnecessary regulations’ on its member states. He also says that he wouldn’t rush into Czech adoption of the single currency Euro.

In 2014, Drahoš signed a petition called ‘Scientists against fear and hatred’ which criticised the growing anti-Islamic radicalism in the country. He also criticised president Zeman’s decision to appoint Andrej Babiš as prime minister.

No matter whether he wins the next round of the presidential election in two weeks’ time, Jiří Drahoš has already said he will still be seeking a role in public life in the future.