Milos Zeman, center-left, former Prime Minister, won the presidential elections in the Czech Republic, as was expected. In the second round of the first direct presidential elections in the history of the country Zeman defeated the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, center-right Karel Schwarzenberg. The elections ended on Saturday at 2 p.m. Prague time and after 90 minutes the result was known. Almost 55 percent of voters supported Zeman, who was nearly 10 percent ahead of his opponent.
Right after the elections results were announced, Zeman has promised to represent the interest of all Czechs. “As the first president elected through direct voting of the people, I promise to do my best at representing all the citizens of our country,” said Zeman. “At this moment there is a match between ‘Sparta’ and ‘Slavia’ from Prague. And I will play for the national team.” Karel Schwarzenberg, in his turn, congratulated his opponent and expressed his hope that “Zeman will be the president of all Czechs.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Petr Necas, leader of the right-wing ODS, greeted Zeman calling his elections “logical” and “natural.” He noted that the new president, along with the architect of the “Velvet Revolution” Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, form a trio that most significantly characterizes the changes in the country since the fall of communism. Prime Minister also said that Schwarzenberg remains the chief of Czech diplomacy.
It should be noted that the Czechs have taken the presidential elections very serious. They realized that their choice will be the signal of the direction the country will move after the two presidential terms of the current head of state, pragmatic and Eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus and his predecessor, the revered first president of the Czech Republic, former dissident and writer Vaclav Havel.
Election commentators noted that the discussion on what the next president should be like showed how divided the Czech society is. One half of the Czechs is disappointed with the modern economic difficulties, experiencing strong nostalgia for not as well-off but stable past, represented by the former social democrat and now an informal leader of the Left Party for pro-Zeman citizens, educated economist, and a convinced 68-year-old socialist Milos Zeman. His average voter lives in small towns, is engaged in small business, fears changes, and loves to complain about foreigners.
Zeman is an inveterate politician, always with a cigarette in his mouth, a big fan of drinking and sharp in the way he speaks, always ready to put his opponent in his place.
The other half of the Czech population, voters of the 75-year-old Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg, are residents of large cities, looking with optimism in the future, and willing to be active participants of changes. No wonder that among the electorate of the prince, as Schwarzenberg’s supporters fondly call him, there were many young people. In the early 1990s Schwarzenberg was an adviser to the President Vaclav Havel, leader of the Velvet Revolution, during which the country was freed from the communist regime. Supporters of Schwarzenberg took his defeat with great sorrow.
The triumphant return to politics of Zeman surprised many Czechs. Ten years ago he suffered a humiliating defeat when he first aspired to the presidency. Then, even the members of his own party did not vote for him. Zeman retired to rest and spent most of his time at his country home, far away, as it seemed, from politics.
But this time he was able to garner the votes of the older generation of Czechs, as well as the votes of the residents of regions that have been most severely affected by the economic crisis in the past decade.
President’s office in the Czech Republic is rather symbolic. The President represents the country abroad, he also appoints the head of the Central Bank and the head of the Supreme Court. But after the law was changed and the president had to be elected not by the parliament but through direct vote, people got actively involved in the campaign. This year there were nine candidates for the presidency. Turnout at the elections in the second round was 57 percent of voters, which was rather surprising for the observers who did not expect this from Czech people so disillusioned with politics.
Zeman said that his first visit after taking the office will be made on March 8 to Slovakia.
Observers note that Zeman, who calls himself “Eurofederalist” and supports the Czech Republic joining the Eurozone, will be a pro-European president, as opposed to his predecessor Vaclav Klaus, who was a Eurosceptic.