Czech voters elect president directly for the first time in history
Over the coming days, Czech voters nationwide will have have the opportunity to select their president for the first time in history. Up until now that role has been played by Parliament. During the first round of voting, should no single candidate receive more than half of the votes, people will at least determine which two of the nine candidates will make it to the final round of voting in two weeks' time.
Voters will be deciding much more than who will replace Václav Klaus at Prague Castle, whose portrait will next adorn postage stamps and state offices, and who will read next year's New Year's Day speech. They will primarily be influencing who will preside over the appointing of future cabinets, Czech National Bank managers, and judges, including Constitutional Court judges, and who will acquire the right to veto legislation, grant pardons, and represent the Czech Republic during high-level negotiations.
The candidates include politicians with experience in previous cabinets and Parliament, as well as celebrities better known from the sphere of culture. The front-runners are former prime ministers Jan Fischer and Miloš Zeman (Citizen's Rights Party for Zeman - Strana práv občanů ZEMANOVCI). The strongest parliamentary parties have backed Senator Jiří Dienstbier (vice-chair of the Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), Senate Vice-Chair Přemysl Sobotka (Civic Democratic Party - ODS) and Deputy PM Karel Schwarzenberg (who heads the TOP 09 party).
Female candidates are running as well for the first time since the Czech Republic became an independent state: MEP Zuzana Roithová (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL), her former colleague Jana Bobošíková (head of the Sovereignty - Suverenita party), and former MP Táňa Fischerová (chair of the Crucial Movement - Klíčové hnutí). The only candidate who has not yet significantly impacted Czech political life is the composer and visual artist Vladimír Franz.
Only one candidate will eventually take on both the accountability and the privileges associated with the office of head of state. Benefits include the presidential salary of CZK 186 300 (EUR 7 263) per month, use of the presidential buildings, including the chateau at Lány, and the use of two telephone systems as established by law.
According to estimates, the direct presidential election will cost the state roughly CZK 655 million (EUR 25.5 million). The candidates and their supporters have incurred other expenses, which according to available information have exceeded more than CZK 70 million total (EUR 2.7 million). Each candidate was permitted to spend up to CZK 40 million (EUR 1.6 million). Unlike other kinds of elections, the presidential candidates cannot expect any contribution from the state toward the cost of running for office, but will have to report on their expenditures and use any unspent funds for philanthropic purposes.
Polling places in the Czech Republic will be open tomorrow (Friday, 11 January) and Saturday. In the United States, because of the time difference, voting at Czech consulates and embassies will begin starting this afternoon. In Brazil, voting will start at Czech consulates and embassies today at 17:00 CET, while on the East Coast of the USA voting will start three hours later. The selection of the head of state is the only nationwide election planned for this year.
News server Romea.cz has conducted a survey of the presidential candidates for our readers. We asked the candidates, among other things, about their strategies for addressing the issue of social exclusion and their opinions on the integration of the Romani minority, particularly on how they intend to achieve improvements in that direction. We were also interested in their approach toward right-wing extremists, toward the issue of segregating pupils in primary schools, and toward the case of the pig farm located on the site of a WWII-era forced labor camp for Romani people.
We published their answers in the order in which we received them, as follows:
- Jiří Dienstbier
- Miloš Zeman
- Jan Fischer
- Karel Schwarzenberg
- Táňa Fischerová
- Přemysl Sobotka
- Jana Bobošíková
Candidates Franz and Roithová did not complete our questionnaire. Both said they were too busy.
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