Presidential race kicks off in earnest

The race for president, hereto overshadowed by the general elections, is gathering momentum. November 7th is the deadline for registering in the elections and over the next eight weeks the candidates registered will start campaigning in earnest.

Miloš Zeman and his wife Ivana, photo: CTKMiloš Zeman and his wife Ivana, photo: CTK On January 12 -13 Czechs will go to the polls to elect the country’s next head of state. The incumbent president, Miloš Zeman is running for a second term in office, challenged by a host of candidates – including politicians, business leaders, and activists.

Czech law stipulates that in order to qualify for the ballot, candidates must gather 50,000 signatures from citizens, or win support from twenty deputies or ten senators. The candidates must file their applications and hand over the respective signatures in support of their candidacy to the Interior Ministry 66 days before the election in order to give the ministry time to verify a sample of the signatures.

President Miloš Zeman who is fighting for re-election as an independent candidate announced on Monday that he had collected 113, 000 signatures in his support, telling fans that he was fit and ready to challenge his rivals for the top post. His age and ailing health appear to be his main drawbacks.

Jiří Drahoš, photo: CTKJiří Drahoš, photo: CTK His most serious rivals for the post are the former head of the Czech academy of Sciences Jiří Drahoš, who collected 110,000 signatures, Michal Horáček, with 86,000 signatures and the only seasoned politician in the running Mirek Topolánek, who unexpectedly threw his hat in the ring on Sunday, announcing that he had the support of 10 senators, not only from his Civic Democratic Party.

The head of the SPD, a nationalist and anti-EU party, Tomio Okamura, announced he would not enter the presidential race after all.

Political parties, who have the power to sway public opinion, are cautious in their stand as to who they will support and none of the parliamentary parties have fielded a candidate of their own.

The incumbent president Miloš Zeman is likely to receive support from left-wing voters and ANO sympathizers because of the close working relationship between him and ANO leader Andrej Babiš.

Michal Horáček, photo: CTKMichal Horáček, photo: CTK On the other hand, right-wing voters will likely chose between the former politian Mirek Topolánek, academic Jiří Drahoš and entrepreneur Michal Horáček. Each of them represent what the Czech media describe as an anti-Zeman offensive. Political commentators have expressed the view though that three such candidates could split the opposition vote and thereby increase Zeman’s chances of re-election.

One thing is clear even now – the country’s next president will not be a woman. The only female candidate, actress Jana Hrušková ,withdrew from the race even before it had properly started.