Zeman-Schwarzenberg showdown scenario few had predicted

Photo: ČTK

The first Czech president directly elected by voters will be either Miloš Zeman or Karel Schwarzenberg. The former headed the polls going into the first round, and confirmed the role of bookmakers’ favourite by coming first with 24.2 percent of the vote. However, while some thought Mr. Schwarzenberg might perhaps squeak past Jan Fischer (who had for a considerable period headed the polls himself), nobody predicted he could achieve a showing as strong as 23.4 percent.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK
The surprise outcome of round one could perhaps be traced back to the unimpressive showing of Mr. Fischer in recent direct debates with Mr. Zeman on the country’s commercial TV stations. A feeling may have grown that as the divisive Mr. Zeman, a master debater, was evidently nailed-on to advance, the relatively wimpy Mr. Fischer did not pass muster as a worthy opponent.

Another factor may have been Mr. Schwarzenberg’s extremely effective campaigning in the week leading up to the first round. His team appealed to the young and the educated through endorsements that zinged around social media networks (and heavy online advertising), and he polled particularly strongly in Prague.

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: ČTK
Only a brave person would at this moment dare attempt to call the outcome of the runoff in two weeks’ time. The two contenders, who finished less than a percentage point apart in the first round, are markedly different in terms of both policy and style and will appeal to different sections of society. Endorsements from some of the candidates defeated in round one could perhaps help tip the scales one way or the other. In any case, it appears we are in for a very interesting fortnight.