The Czech Republic is saying goodbye to the decade-long era of controversial Czech President Miloš Zeman, known for his pro-Russian and pro-Chinese positions, and is hoping for a new democratic president.
Before the end of his mandate and start of retirement in March, Zeman is still pushing the boundaries of his powers, something that constitutional law experts have criticised.
“Whenever Zeman saw an opportunity to take a surprising step, to move on the edge of the constitution or even over the edge, he did so and caused a number of problems,” Czech constitutional lawyer Jan Wintr told the Czech Television on Thursday (5 January), the day after Zeman said he would refuse to appoint a new environmental minister.
Zeman had good relations with his Chinese and Russian counterparts and promoted mutual cooperation with both countries. However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he started to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Sunday, Zeman’s opponents symbolically said goodbye to him directly at his official seat – Prague Castle – where a demonstration was held. The meeting called “Let’s make a change: Democrat for the Castle” was attended by hundreds of people.
That same day, Zeman hinted that before the end of his mandate, he could appoint the new chief of the Constitutional Court.
Czechs will head to the polls on 13 January for the first election round to choose his successor. The second round takes place between 27-28 January.
While it is unlikely that any candidate will win the necessary majority of votes to be elected in the first round, three candidates have emerged as the leading contenders to enter a run-off.
The ANO party, which sits with the liberal and centrist Renew Europe Group in the EU Parliament, supports former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, currently facing trial in an EU subsidy fraud case, polling at around 28%.
The centre-right and national-conservative SPOLU alliance of ODS (ECR Group in the EU Parliament), KDU-ČSL and TOP 09 (both EPP Group in the EU Parliament) endorsed three candidates. These include Petr Pavel, a non-partisan and former military general, polling around 28%. Danuše Nerudová, a non-partisan and economist professor, is polling at about 24%, still in reach of the two front-runners. Nerudová would be the first female person to hold the office.
However, Josef Středula, one of the candidates trailing at 3%, announced his withdrawal from the race and endorsed Nerudová on Sunday, making the race for the run-off even less predictable.
The latest second-round polls suggest that Pavel and Nerudová would defeat Andrej Babiš in a run-off. If Nerudová and Pavel make it into the run-off, which is set to take place two weeks after the first round, polls suggest a tight race, with a non-substantial advantage for Pavel in some polls.