Czech Republic. A billionaire, a general and an economist aspire to the presidency.

The billionaire former prime minister, ex-NATO general and young economist are leading the polls ahead of the first round of Czech presidential elections on Friday and Saturday. “It is 99% clear that two of these three candidates will make it to the second round,” said Josef Mlejnek, an analyst at Charles University in Prague.

Candidate and former prime minister Andrej Babis speaks at a campaign event for the last presidential election before the first round of elections, Brno, Czech Republic, January 09, 2023.

KEYDASHI

After former prime minister Andrej Babis, general Petr Pavel and economist Danuse Nerudova, five more candidates are advancing in the voting.

As it is unlikely that one of the candidates will win more than 50% of the votes in the first round, a runoff will be held on January 27 and 28 against the top two. According to the polls, if there was such a final, Mr. Pavel and Ms. Nerudova would then both beat Mr. Babis.

The winner will replace Milos Zeman, 78, known for his outspokenness and heavy drinking, whose last term in office ended in March and who usually wields more influence than the president in this EU country.

Protocol role

Although his role is essentially ceremonial, it is the head of state who appoints the government, chooses the governor of the central bank, as well as the judges of the constitutional court, and assumes the functions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The new president will be the fourth president since the Czech Republic became an independent country in 1993 after breaking away from Slovakia.

Mr. Babis, who is slightly ahead in opinion polls, is the Czech Republic’s fifth-richest person, according to Forbes magazine. The 68-year-old MP was convicted of being an agent of the communist secret police in the past. He also had to defend business activities that were considered suspicious.

On Monday, a Prague court acquitted him of European subsidy fraud. Mr. Babis, who wants to be a “strong, active, independent, fair and hardworking” president, has a stable 30% support from the populist ANO movement.

Deficit and inflation

He was head of government in the 2017-2021 legislative elections before losing to current Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s center-right coalition.

Mr. Fiala’s government, which is struggling with record inflation and a public deficit due to the war in Ukraine, has thrown its support behind both Mr. Pavel and Ms. Nerudova.

The head of state, who is often at odds with the authorities, supported Mr. Babis. Unlike his opponents, Mr. Babis reduced his campaign to meetings with citizens. He carefully avoided election debates.

True to his military background, Mr. Pavel campaigned to “restore order” in the Czech Republic and provide “experienced and calm leadership.” The 61-year-old headed NATO’s military committee in 2015-2018.

An elite paratrooper, he received numerous military honors and helped liberate French soldiers from the Serbo-Croatian war zone.

Busy requests

Ms. Nerudova, the youngest of the candidates and the only woman, at the age of 44, used social networks in her campaign. He never missed an opportunity to emphasize his strong family ties. An academic by career, Ms. Nerudova rose through the career ladder to become president of Mendel University in her hometown of Brno.

An avid fisherman and mushroom picker, he vowed to “leave his ego behind” and “communicate with all groups of people.”

Mr. Babis leads in two separate opinion polls by CNN Prima News and the Ipsos agency on Sunday and Monday, but is not far behind Mr. Pavel in two other polls conducted on the same day and broadcast by Czech TV respectively. Media agency.

Their credit is 26-29.5%, and Mrs. Nerudova’s is 21-25%. “I think that Mr. Babis will go to the second round. The question is whether it is against Mr. Pavel or Mrs. Nerudova,” says analyst Mleynek.

None of the other candidates could get more than 10% of the votes. Among them are centrist senators Pavel Fischer and Marek Hilser, far-right lawmaker Jaroslav Basta, entrepreneur Karel Divis and former president of Charles University Thomas Zima.

Polling stations open at 14:00 (in Switzerland) for the first round and close at 22:00 on Friday. They will reopen at 8 a.m. Saturday and close at 2 p.m. The results are expected on Saturday evening.

TTY

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