Czech govt. won't back a candidate as presidential race takes shape

The ruling coalition offered lukewarm support for three candidates and a snub to populists and extremists.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 05.10.2022 11:36:00 (updated on 10.01.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

The Czech ruling coalition Spolu announced that it will not be fielding a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. The coalition also won’t back a single candidate in the first round, which is scheduled for Jan. 13–14, 2023.

Nevertheless, the coalition – the Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), and TOP 09 – is planning an information campaign before the presidential vote in line with its plans to prevent any extremist or populist from being elected.

"It is still our aim and responsibility of the strongest grouping to prevent the entry of populist and extremist forces to the post of president," Fiala said, adding that the president represented the Czech Republic in a number of international meetings, including those of NATO.

Prime Minster Petr Fiala named Senator Pavel Fischer, former university rector Danuše Nerudová, and General Petr Pavel as suitable presidential candidates.

Fischer ran in the last presidential election in 2018. He gained 10 percent of the votes and ended third, not making the runoff. Fischer’s experience includes being an advisor to President Václav Havel and serving as Czech ambassador to France and Monaco. He has already gathered enough signatures from senators to get on the ballot.

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Pavel, now retired from military service, served as the chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to ’18 and as the Czech Army’s chief of the general staff from 2012 to ’15.

Pavel announced on Sept. 27 that he had gathered 50,000 signatures. At the time, he said he was not seeking the support of any party. "I have not negotiated with any other representative, I have not asked anybody for support," Pavel said. "I don't want to be the president of politicians, but first of all to serve the citizens," he added.

Regarding Pavel's membership of the Communist party during the Communist era, Fiala said it was most important for the coalition that the president should have a clear pro-Western orientation, respecting the constitution and the voters' voices.

Nerudová, who was rector of Mendel University until the start of this year, is still gathering signatures for her bid. She has assumed a prominent position in the Czech public sphere, particularly in response to the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic and related economic problems. Her priority as president would be to bridge cultural and social divides in the Czech Republic by emphasizing “the fundamental values that unite us.”

Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst from Charles University, said Spolu’s decision was no surprise.

"It has been expected for a long time. Mainly now, amid the energy crisis and hiking prices, the position of a government candidate would be difficult, and this is probably also why none of the potential bidders wanted to take up the candidacy," Mlejnek said.

Mlejnek said Spolu’s support of the trio of candidates is rather lukewarm since stronger support might become a kiss of death for them.

Masaryk University's analyst Lubomír Kopeček said that in the current situation, a single official Spolu candidate would have a low chance to succeed. “He or she could make the elections into a vote against the cabinet and help Andrej Babiš’s possible candidacy succeed. … With regard to this, it is a rational step," Kopeček said.

Fischer, Nerudová, and Pavel said they appreciated Spolu’s decision. "I appreciate the confidence Together has expressed in me," Fischer said.

Nerudová said she would be the president beyond the parties and she had always sided with citizens. "I highly esteem that the government parties have decided to support me although I am an independent candidate and my views of the government steps have often been very critical," she tweeted.

Pavel said he appreciated Spolu pushing aside party interests and preferring shared values instead.

"I do not presume that Andrej Babiš will follow this example. As a result, I can look forward to a real duel in the debates," he added.

The leader of the senior opposition ANO, former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, told ČTK that Fiala did not say anything new. Babiš is expected to run but has not yet confirmed his bid. He is also currently on trial over suspected subsidy fraud.

"They will support a former communist military spy controlled by an arms lobbyist, a man who would like to discriminate against homosexuals, and an unimpressive lady without a clear opinion on anything important," Babiš said.

Almost two dozen people have either announced their candidacy or their intention to run, and there is speculation about another dozen people. In order to get on the ballot, a candidate needs 50,000 signatures from Czech citizens, or signatures from 10 senators or 20 lower house deputies. The candidates must present their official bids by early November at the latest.

According to a September poll by Median, Pavel and Babiš are the favorites with over 20 percent each.

Nerudová has 11.5 percent support, trade union leader Josef Středula follows with 7.5 percent, and Senators Marek Hilšer and Pavel Fischer, respectively, with 6.5 percent. The poll took place before Fischer announced his candidacy.

Senator Hilšer said he did not ask for support and cannot imagine that the ODS would support him as he is known for his rejection of backstage players who have been influencing the political culture in Czechia since the 1990s. He said he is looking forward to the campaign before the presidential election and believes in the victory of a candidate who will bring a positive change.

Outgoing President Miloś Zeman expressed support for union leader Stredula. "I am neither sad nor surprised. I am glad that I can be a candidate for the citizens of the Czech Republic," Stredula said.  

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