Clash of populism and liberalism in Czech Republic this weekend

Czechs are close to starting the post-Zeman era in the first round of presidential elections on 13 and 14 January.

Voters will elect the 4th president of the Czech Republic after 10 years of Miloš Zeman’s rule. The 78-year-old populist is the third part of overall Czech independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For two 5-year terms, he controversially supported Russia attending the Victory Day parade in Moscow in 2015, tried to build closer ties with China, and disparaged Czech Intelligence work. President in the Czech Republic is a symbolic title; even Zeman’s pro-Russian position didn’t stand in the way of valuable Czech military support for Ukraine.

According to the latest polls provided by Politico, among eight contenders only three had high chances to succeed: former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, retired general Petr Pavel and academic economist Danuše Nerudová. Unless one of them gains 50% of the votes, the second tour will take place on 27 and 28 January.

Two liberal and one populist rivals

Andrej Babiš, 68, leading his populist ANO (YES in English) party and former Prime Minister (2007-2021) is the Czech richest man and billionaire. The Guardian explained that this week a Prague court acquitted him of fraud charges stemming from allegations that he accepted funds from EU small businesses for hotels and conferences in his business.

Babiš announced his candidacy in October after months an unofficial campaign, during which he showed contempt for Ukrainian refugees and criticized US & EU military aid for Ukraine. He supports anti-immigration agenda and as Bloomberg states has close ties with Hungarian nationalist leader Victor Orban.

Babiš’ win may create difficulties for current Prime Minister Petr Fiala, a great Ukraine supporter because Babiš has stated that Czech Republic is doing “too much help both for military aid and refugees”. Polls gave him little more than 20%.

However, his two closest rivals, Danuše Nerudová, 44, and Petr Pavel, 61, liberal candidates, have much higher chances separately, and it is considered that their voters could unite against Babiš, giving 52% votes together in the second round.

Is female leadership a new trend?

Nerudová could become the first Czech female president and continue the trend as a liberal Democrat. Unlike her closest rivals, she never participated in the Communist party in former Czechoslovakia. Recent elections in Italy, where Giorgia Meloni took the PM cabinet, have shown that women can successfully maintain a consistent pro-Ukrainian and pro-European course, unlike Czech parties such as ANO or Citizens’ Democratic Party (ODS), the largest party in the current coalition.

Next Czech president, even without real executive power, will face the most significant war in Europe since WW2, rising public sector finance deficit and bulging inflation in a country of more than 10 million citizens.

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