PRAGUE - Czechs will hold their first presidential election on Jan. 11 and 12 to replace outgoing eurosceptic leader Vaclav Klaus, the speaker of the upper house of parliament said on Monday.
Up to now, the country’s parliament has chosen the
president. But the assembly agreed to hand that power over to
the electorate amid calls for more open democracy, fuelled by a
growing public perception of cronyism and corruption in the
country’s political parties.
Opinion polls suggest the leading candidates to replace
Klaus are former prime ministers Milos Zeman and Jan Fischer, in
office from 1998-2002 and 2009-2010, respectively.
Both men are much more in favour of closer cooperation with
the European Union than Klaus. Both were members of then
Czechoslovakia’s totalitarian Communist party before the
collapse of the Soviet Union.
Fischer is running as an independent candidate while Zeman
has the support of a leftist SPOZ party, a small splinter group
from the centre-left Social Democratic party he used to lead.
Political analysts say their popularity is another reminder
of the public’s exasperation with the country’s larger,
mainstream parties, following a round of harsh austerity
measures and sleaze scandals.
Czech presidents do not have the executive powers held by
the leaders of France or the United States. But they wield
significant influence over the cabinet and parliament through
their ability to delay legislation and appoint prime ministers
and other officials.
The office, held by anti-communist dissident and writer
Vaclav Havel from 1990-2003, is held in high esteem in the
country of 10.5 million people.
Senate speaker Milan Stech said an anticipated second round
run-off between the top two candidates for the presidency would
take place two weeks after the first round of the election.