By Sara Sivkova, Analyst KEDISA
At the start of the new year on January 13th and 14th 2023, the presidential election will be held in the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia). It is only the third direct presidential election to be held since 2013, when it replaced the indirect vote. The upcoming presidential election is expected to be a heated battle between nine (9) divergent candidates. According to the leading polling agencies such as POLITICO and Median, the pre-election polls of the next year’s presidential election are slightly in favour of Petr Pavel, followed by Andrej Babiš and Danuše Nerudová. However, just like with the relatively recent parliamentary pre-election polls, the results might not be so easy to predict. The outcome of the presidential election might differ in the second round, which will be held two weeks after the first one. This second round will be between the two candidates most successful in the first round.
As I mentioned in my previous article on the forthcoming parliamentary election in the Czech Republic (8-9 October 2021), the Czech Republic is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic, therefore the head of government is the Prime minister, and the president is a formal head of state with limited powers and more representative nature. As stated in the Constitution of the Czech Republic, the president’s executive power is to appoint and dismiss the Prime minister, members of the Cabinet, president and vice president of the Supreme Audit Office, judges and ambassadors. Additionally, the president is responsible for signing laws, ratifying international treaties, granting amnesty, and representing the state abroad. Even though the scope of presidential powers is meant to be as limited as possible in order not to disrupt the government, the current president Miloš Zeman’s presidency was the subject of many controversies, such as his show of preference for specific political parties, the refusal to appoint a coalition of political parties in favour of single party, refusal to appoint specific judges and professors or his decision to give honours to certain highly controversial individuals.
The conditions to become a candidate for the presidential office in Czechia are to gather either at least 50,000 signatures from citizens, a signed support of 10 senators, or 20 members of the parliament. Another significant requirement is for candidates to file their applications with said signatures at least 66 days before the election is held. Afterwards, the Ministry of Interior verifies that all conditions were met. Initially, there were around twenty one (21) candidates for the presidency but after the verification process, only nine (9) were allowed to enter the race. The previously mentioned parliamentary election actually cost few candidates their chance, as they handed in signatures from parliament members who since they lost their seats, they rendered their signatures invalid. Below are listed the five most likely winning candidates.
According to the polls, Petr Pavel is perceived as one of the most probable candidates to be the next president. Nowadays Petr Pavel is a retired Army General, in the past he was the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee during 2015-2018 and Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army before that. He has a long history of serving in the Czech Army which gives him high support for his previous affiliation with the military. Though there are some problematic parts of his military past that were brought to light during his candidacy such as membership in the Cold War era of the ruling Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This kind of involvement was perceived as a must to pursue the military carrier during the communist party rule in Czechoslovakia. Therefore, it is no surprise that some other candidates would use this controversial part of his past to hinder his candidacy. Mr Pavel’s lax approach to these accusations makes him lose some of his voter’s support. On the other hand, Mr Pavel is by most of his voters perceived as a person with great experience in international politics and military leadership. In his campaign, he puts emphasis on foreign policy, independent energy sector, innovative economics, a healthy environment and education. His approach resonates with many voters that are looking for a more stable and less provocative presidential figure. He is an independent candidate, nonetheless, he was able to gain support (although not exclusive) from political parties such as ODS, KDU-ČSL and TOP 09 and is supported by their ruling coalition SPOLU.
Andrej Babiš, the former Prime minister and leader of the political party ANO is known for his controversial legacy in Czech politics. According, to the Forbes agency he is considered to be one of the richest men in the Czech Republic. However, most of his political career was accompanied by his conflict of interests due to his association with the Agrofert holding. During his previous campaigns, Mr Babiš was using mostly populist rhetoric with the intent to be in opposition to the current government with slogans such as “It was better with Babiš!” (“Za Babiše bylo líp”), which he is re-using for the presidential race. His political agenda focuses on financial policies (the pensions and the energy crisis) and “speaking for the average Joe”. While most of the candidates decided to announce their candidacy in early autumn, Mr Babiš did so in the last minute on 30th October 2022. Some political analysts, such as Petr Just, point out that Mr Babiš’ candidacy might have another ulterior motive behind it. Mr Just in his interview for Radio Prague International suggests that a pretext here is Mr Babiš’ need for political immunity in order to avoid the on-going criminal investigation into his business activities. Similarly, to Donald Trump in the USA, Andrej Babiš identifies himself with the will of the people (mostly retired and lower-middle class) and he is appealing to those voters who are not happy with the establishment and on whose door is the energy crisis knocking the loudest.
The main trio is completed by Danuše Nerudová, an economist and a former head of the Mendel University. Mrs Nerudová is an independent candidate that is also supported by the SPOLU coalition. She aims to address the economic crisis, climate change and her objective is renewing the dignity of all people. She stated in interview for the economic magazine E15, that she aims to be the president for all, including the people from the margins of society. As an economist, she focuses on financial policies and her main interest is to review state spending and pensions. According to the latest polls Mrs Nerudová is leading the presidential race. If elected she would be the first female president in the history of the Czech Republic.
Josef Středula is the president of the Bohemian-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions since 2014. He is focusing his campaign on leftist rhetoric. He is known to the public due to his involvement in unions and his strict approach towards labour policies. Recently, he took part in the demonstrations of unions that aimed to promote more benevolent financial policies to support entrepreneurs and to secure social benefits. However, this action could significantly jeopardise his run for the presidency as most of his electorate does not approve such behaviour. Středula builds his campaign around social policies and European integration in order to “make the Czech Republic the center of Europe”. He is supported by the ČSSD (The Czech Social Democratic Party) and by the current president Miloš Zeman.
Pavel Fischer, a senator for Prague 12 is not new to the presidential race. This is his second candidacy for the office. During his first attempt he ended third with 10.24% of votes in his favour. He was the one to announce his candidacy back in November 2018. In his political campaign, he is focused on foreign politics, especially the relations with NATO and the USA, and energy issues. He is an independent candidate who is supported by political parties such as ODS, KDU-ČSL, TOP 09 and STAN.
Among these presidential candidates are some who are more likely to follow the path of their predecessor such as Andrej Babiš, who, if elected, is expected to polarise society and cause potential discrepancy within the government. On the other hand, most candidates are following a different path from Miloš Zeman and, at least in their speeches, they vow to be less controversial and obstructive if elected. As many voters are biding their time and waiting for the second round to participate, the pre-election polls indicate the first round of the presidential election would favour Andrej Babiš. That is due to Babiš’ electorate being highly politically active. Therefore, the first round is most likely to determine who will be the challenger for Andrej Babiš, whereas the second round is expected to mobilise voters whose main interest is to deter Andrej Babiš from becoming the next Czech president.
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Pavel Fischer after being elected as senator intends to run for president, (Pavel Fischer po zvolení senátorem plánuje prezidentskou kandidaturu) by Marek Baloun, 13/10/2018, https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/pavel-fischer-po-zvoleni-senatorem-planuje-prezidentskou-kandidaturu-58235
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President declares to not accept any coalition as the winner of the elections: Only a winning party will be assign to form government, (Prezident může ignorovat koalice a pověřit sestavením vlády předsedu vítězné strany, říká ústavní právník), iRozhlas, 30/6/2021, https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/ustavni-pravnik-jan-wintr-milos-zeman-rozhovor-koalice-andrej-babis-jmenovani_2106301312_vis
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Row Over Babiš’ Conflict of Interest Set to Spice up Czech presidential Race, by Prague Morning, 1/8/2022, https://www.praguemorning.cz/row-over-babis-conflicts-of-interest-set-to-spice-up-czech-presidential-race/
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Středula announces his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election, seeks for people´s support, (Středula oznámil kandidaturu na prezidenta. Chce se ucházet o podporu lidí), Deník, 5/5/2022, https://www.denik.cz/z_domova/josef-stredula-kandidatura-prezident-20220505.html
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Nerudová is in the lead, for the first time she is the favorite in the election (Aktuální volební průzkumy: Nerudová je ve vedení. Poprvé je favoritkou voleb), E15, 9/12/2022, https://www.e15.cz/prezidentske-volby/aktualni-volebni-pruzkumy-preference