Miloš Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg will go into a two-candidate runoff in the first Czech direct presidential election in two weeks’ time. Mr. Zeman, a former prime minister, received 24.21 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Schwarzenberg, who is foreign minister and chairman of the TOP 09 party, with 23.40 percent and Jan Fischer on 16.35 percent. Mr. Fischer, who is also a former prime minister, had been ahead in opinion polls for a long period but was overtaken by Mr. Zeman in the polls and seemed to lose a good deal of support in the final days before the first-round vote. Turnout in Friday and Saturday’s vote was 61 percent. The winner will succeed Václav Klaus, who steps down in early March.
Of the remaining six candidates, the Social Democrats’ Jiří Dientsbier received 16.12 percent, tattooed artist Vladmír Franz 6.84 percent, MEP Zuzana Roithová 4.95 percent, MP Taťana Fischerová 3.23 percent, the Civic Democrats’ Přemysl Sobotka 2.46 percent and former MEP Jana Bobošíková 2.39 percent. The outcome will be seen as particularly poor for Mr. Sobotka, whose party lead the Czech coalition government.
The two candidates heading into the runoff have already begun battling for supremacy. In a news conference at his election headquarters, Karel Schwarzenberg described Mr. Zeman as a man of the past (he also sang the Czech national anthem). The latter replied about an hour later by saying that Mr. Schwarzenberg was a man of the present, in that he was responsible for the actions of the current government, including tax rises, pension reform and church restitution. He also highlighted the link between his opponent and his TOP 09 colleague Miroslav Kalousek, who is seen as the de facto head of the party and as finance minister is the chief architect of the financial reforms. Mr. Zeman said the runoff would be a left-right vote along the lines of the Hollande-Sarkozy battle for the presidency in France last year.
The Social Democrats have given their endorsement to Miloš Zeman, a former leader of the party, for the presidency. Earlier, the party’s own candidate Jiří Dientsbier had said both Mr. Zeman and Mr. Schwarzenberg were essentially right-wing. Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats’ Přemysl Sobotka and Zuzana Roithová of the Christian Democrats have given their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg.
Miloš Zeman, 68, is regarded as one of the most significant Czech politicians of the last two decades. He transformed the Social Democrats into an election-winning force and was prime minister from 1998 to 2002, under a controversial “opposition agreement” with the Civic Democrats, the party’s nominal chief rivals. Accused by some of coarsening political discourse in the Czech Republic, he failed to become Czech president in bicameral elections in 2003. Karel Schwarzenberg, who is 75, is an immensely wealthy titled prince whose family fled Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup of 1948; after serving as chairman of the International Helsinki Committee, a human rights body, he returned after 1989’s Velvet Revolution and was chancellor to President Václav Havel, to whom he remained close.
Over 500 Czechs cast their ballots in the presidential election in the United States and Canada. The figure represents less than half the number of registered Czech voters in both countries and was lower than in the last Czech parliamentary elections. Voting began in the Western Hemisphere on Thursday, with the first Czechs going to the polls at the country’s diplomatic offices in Brazil and Argentina. Some 54.28 percent of Czech voters living abroad gave their backing to Mr. Schwarzenberg, while Mr. Zeman came second among them, with 10.11 percent.
A police officer who on Friday shot his wife in Hradec Králové before aiming the weapon at himself is in a critical condition. The incident took place in a hairdressing salon in the central Bohemian town. The woman was rushed to hospital but died soon afterwards. The General Inspectorate of the Security Services is investigating the incident on account of the shooter being a member of the police force. The man, who is aged 42, formerly played soccer with a Czech first division club. He and his wife are said to have split up over Christmas.
The striker David Lafata has joined Sparta Prague from Jablonec in a three-and-a-half-year deal. Lafata, who is 31, has been the leading scorer in Czech soccer’s top tier for the last two seasons and heads the goals chart this term with 13 so far. The forward has made 23 appearances for the Czech national team and joins Sparta at a time when the club is third in the domestic league and preparing to face Chelsea in the Europa League.
Czechs are voting in the country’s first direct presidential elections. They are choosing from nine candidates to elect a successor to the outgoing president, Vaclav Klaus, whose second term in office ends in March. Polling stations are open from 2pm until 10 pm on Friday and from 8am to 2pm on Saturday. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 25-26. The turnout in these elections is expected to be higher than usual.
A regional court dealing with cases which fall under the presidential amnesty has halted the prosecution of Judge Jiří Berka who is charged with criminal conspiracy and abuse of office in connection with several suspect bankruptcies. All charges against the judge have been dropped and the court moreover ruled that he should be paid five million crowns in compensation for lost wages. Judge Berka faced ten years in prison for assisting extensive property crime. The state attorney is expected to appeal the decision.