Only hours remain before Czechs go to the polls to elect either Miloš Zeman or Karel Schwarzenberg as the next Czech president. Both are no longer touring the country and began preparing instead for a final series of media interviews and debates. Wednesday saw the candidates face off on Czech Radio and commercial broadcaster TV Nova; on Thursday viewers will have a last chance to see the two in a final debate on Czech TV.
After months and months of campaigning on Thursday it all comes down to this: a last live broadcast on Czech TV ahead of voting in the second round. It will be the last time that either Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloš Zeman find themselves in the hot seat before voting begins. A fortnight ago, less than a percent separated the two men in the first round: since then both campaigns have worked tirelessly to gain an edge, hoping to reel in undecided voters who either didn’t vote in the first round or backed one of the other original candidates.
Jan Fischer and Jiří Dienstbier, for example, who finished third and fourth in the first round got more than 32 percent - more than 1.6 million votes – and the remaining five added up to roughly 900,000. To most it is obvious that whoever attracts the largest number from those groups, wins. Political analyst Vladimíra Dvořaková:
“The key question was whether either camp was able to attract voters who opted for different candidates in the first round. And it seems to me that neither campaign handled the task very well. In the final stretch, it appears that both candidates appealed more to their base than to the undecided electorate. That said, the final debate on Thursday could still be crucial.”
Both Mr Zeman and Mr Schwarzenberg will have to be at the top of their game in the final debate on Thursday evening: no one wants a final gaffe just before voters go to the polls.
On the other hand, as political analyst Dvořaková points out, both will be able to count on a strong base of voters who need no further persuading, for whom the debates have been largely superfluous. Czech TV on Wednesday spoke to several such voters, including a married couple in the village of Vysoká pec in the area of Chomutov: Milan Čapek, the local mayor, and his wife Eva, haven’t the slightest doubt about their favourite candidate:
“Divorce? I don’t think we’re quite there yet!”
The polls open on Friday, January 25 at two pm local time and will remain open until 10 in the evening. They will reopen at 8 am on Saturday and close at two, after which the results will begin coming in. Within a few hours on Saturday Czechs will have learned who will be their next head-of-state.
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