Czechs will hold their first presidential election on January 11 and 12 to replace outgoing euroskeptic leader Vaclav Klaus, the speaker of the upper house of parliament said on Monday. Up to now, the country’s parliament has chosen the president. But the assembly agreed to hand that power over to the electorate amid calls for more open democracy, fuelled by a growing public perception of cronyism and corruption in the country’s political parties.
Opinion polls suggest the leading candidates to replace Klaus are former prime ministers Milos Zeman and Jan Fischer, in office from 1998-2002 and 2009-2010, respectively. Both men are much more in favor of closer cooperation with the European Union than Klaus. Both were members of then Czechoslovakia’s totalitarian Communist party before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fischer is running as an independent candidate while Zeman has the support of a leftist SPOZ party, a small splinter group from the center-left Social Democratic party he used to lead.