For the first time since the Velvet Revolution, citizens in the Czech Republic will have the opportunity to vote directly for their head of state in two weeks. Former Prime Minister Milos Zeman is in the pole position. His tough-talking style appeals to Czechs who are tired of back room deals and a scandal-plagued leadership. Miloš Zeman has set up his campaign headquarters close to his ultimate goal: His headquarters are in an historic building in the old town, close to Prague Castle, which also serves as the Czech Republic’s presidential palace. The candidate lights one cigarette after another, now and then pouring himself a bit more Bohemian white wine from a large carafe. As the smoke wafts around him, Zeman declares, “I want to be president.”
In these days of smoking bans across the European Union, an inhaling head of state might be something of an issue. In the Czech Republic, though, Zeman wins points for his joie de vivre.
Since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the country’s presidents have been chosen by the parliament in Prague. But in January, Czechs will elect their head of state directly for the very first time — and that is good for Miloš Zeman. The candidate presents himself as a man of the people, coarse and direct. Polls show him in the lead, and it seems likely that he will end up in a run-off election against former Prime Minister Jan Fischer.
“I’m in favor of the EU, but against Brussels regulating things like toilets,” Zeman says. If he wins, it will bring a different tone to Prague Castle. Poet-President Václav Havel, who was the first to hold the office after the collapse of communism, was given to moralizing speeches. His successor Václav Klaus, the incumbent who is approaching the end of his second term, has tended to be professorial in manner. Zeman, in contrast, is casual and provincial as a matter of principle.