Populist former prime minister Andrei Babis, 61-year-old retired general Petr Pavel and economist Danuse Nerudova aspire to emerge victorious
Billionaire populist former prime minister Andrej Babis, 61-year-old retired general Petr Pavel and economist Danuse Nerudova are the favorites for the first round of the Czech presidential election, which starts today and ends on Saturday, which observers see as particularly lopsided.
All three aspire to become the fourth president since the Czech Republic was founded in 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The winner will replace 78-year-old Milos Zeman – a veteran politician known for his love of booze – after a period marked by Prague taking over the EU’s rotating 2022 presidency as the war in Ukraine raged.
In addition, the winner will be asked to manage record high inflation and ballooning budget deficits due to the war in Ukraine.
In the event that a candidate does not garner more than 50% of the vote in the first round — which is considered a near certainty — the top two candidates will face off in a second round on January 27-28.
“If you asked me to bet on the result I wouldn’t,” Prague Metropolitan University analyst Petr Just told AFP.
The profile of the candidates
68-year-old billionaire, former Prime Minister Andrej Babis is the fifth richest man in the Czech Republic, according to Forbes magazine’s list.
General Pavel is a former paratrooper, decorated as a hero in the Serbo-Croatian war during which he helped free French soldiers from a war zone. Pavel then became chief of the general staff and chairman of the NATO military commission.
Nerudova, the youngest candidate at 44 and a former university professor, is particularly focused on addressing social issues and relies heavily on the support of younger voters.
Polls show that Pavel and Nerudova will beat Babis if they face him in a runoff.
The other five candidates — two senators, a far-right congressman, a former university chancellor and a businessman — trail the top three by a long way.
The role of the Czech president is largely formal, but the head of state is the one who appoints the government, chooses the governor of the central bank, the constitutional judges and has the role of supreme commander of the armed forces.
The outgoing Zeman, a hard drinker and controversial politician who once confessed to drinking six glasses of wine and three of other spirits a day, has wielded more influence than his predecessors.
Polls for the first round open at 14:00 local time and close at 22:00, then reopen tomorrow at 8:00 and close at 14:00, with results expected tomorrow evening.
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