On Friday and Saturday of this coming week, the Czech electorate will vote in the second and final round of voting to choose their new President. The first round, in which there were nine candidates, took place on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th January. Because no candidate got over 50% of the vote in that first round, the top two candidates are involved in a run-off in the second round.
The winner will replace the current President Václav Klaus, whose second five-year term of office expires in March. This is the first time that the Czech President has been directly elected by the people. Previously, the appointment was made by a joint vote of the two houses of the Czech parliament – the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
Whilst the President wields very little political power, he is meant to represent the Czech state. President Klaus has become increasingly unpopular in recent times, both for expressing very Euro-sceptic views – this despite the considerable benefits the Czech Republic has received since becoming part of the European Union in 2004. He has also attracted great notoriety ever since the famous pen-stealing event in Chile, went viral across the internet.
The two candidates in the second round of voting are Miloš Zeman, who got 24.21% of the vote in the first round, and Karel Schwarzenberg, who got 23.40%. Whilst Zeman was expected to top the poll in the first round, Schwarzenberg’s performance well exceeded expectations and the predictions of opinion polls.
There is a real contrast between Zeman and Schwarzenberg. At a simplistic level, it is a contrast and contest between the political left and political right. Zeman is a former leader of the Social Democratic party(CSSD) and was Prime Minister from 1998-2002. In 2007, he left the CSSD and has been in the political wilderness for some years. Schwarzenberg is leader of the centrist pro-European TOP 09 party and currently Foreign Minister in the centre-right coalition government.
However, the greater contrast lies in their respective life histories and background. Zeman was born in Kolín, an industrial town east of Prague, in 1944. He has lived the whole of his life in the protectorate of Bohemia & Moravia/Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic. He was briefly a member of the Communist party between 1968-1970, but thrown out for opposing Soviet ‘normalisation’ policies imposed after the crushing of the Prague Spring.
Schwarzenberg was born in Prague in 1937. He and his family left Czechoslovakia in 1948, when the Communists came to power and moved to Austria, only returning to Prague in 1990, following the Velvet Revolution. He is a titled prince, officially Karel, Prince of Schwarzenberg. Or if you really want his full title in German, it is Karl Johannes Nepomuk Joseph Norbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Menas Fürst zu Schwarzenberg 🙂 Like many educated older Czech people, and because of his time living in Austria, he speaks fluent German with his Czech being described as ‘slightly archaic and often earthy’.
Schwarzenberg is particularly popular in Prague, which is why this post only has pictures of his posters. I have seen Zeman posters when driving to and from Brno, but didn’t get the opportunity to photograph them. Schwarzenberg is also very popular amongst young people, helped I’m sure, by some clever graphic design work, portraying him as a punk 🙂 But all Schwarzenberg’s publicity features him wearing his most recognisable trademark – a bow tie!
Schwarzenberg also seems to have the support of most of the Christian community in the Czech Republic, and from right across the spectrum. He is an active and practising Roman Catholic, but without advocating the very conservative views of the current Pope. He has also strongly endorsed the modern Czech translation of the Bible published in 2009 as ‘Bible 21’, and encouraged people to read it, thus making himself equally popular with the Protestant community.
If the election was taking place in ‘Fraktal‘, the bar-restaurant where I took this picture, Karel Schwarzenberg would be the very clear winner! The result this coming weekend, is likely to be far closer.