The Czech president, Václav Klaus, has described the outcome of the first round of direct elections for his successor as the greatest rout of the country’s right since the fall of communism, after the candidate of the biggest right-wing party the Civic Democrats, Přemysl Sobotka, received only 2.5 percent of the vote. Mr. Klaus, who steps down in March, said he was saddened by the result and felt that “it was necessary to do something about it”. Former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who is chairman of the TOP 09 party and an acolyte of the late Václav Havel, will face one another in a runoff beginning on January 25. Mr. Klaus places Mr. Schwarzenberg on the left, despite the fact that his party are commonly considered to be right-of-centre and have pushed through financial reforms and church restitution, which are unpopular with left-wing voters. For his part, Mr. Zeman says the runoff will be a left-right vote along the lines of the Hollande-Sarkozy battle for the presidency in France last year. Mr. Klaus refused to endorse either candidate.
The Czech Republic’s bookmakers are backing Karel Schwarzenberg to become the first directly elected president of the country, the news website lidovky.cz reported on Sunday. Miloš Zeman led the opinion polls going into the first round and confirmed the role of favourite by coming first with 24.2 percent of the vote. However, Mr. Schwarzenberg scored far better than expected with 23.4 percent. The betting firm Fortuna for instance is offering odds of 1.4 to 1 on a win for Mr. Schwarzenberg and 2.5 to 1 on a win for his rival.
On a Czech Television discussion programme on Sunday, Karel Schwarzenberg said he would not quit as foreign minister in connection with his presidential campaign. He said he would discuss how to proceed with the prime minister, Petr Nečas, during the coming week. For his part, Miloš Zeman said he appreciated an endorsement from his former party the Social Democrats, saying their support proved they were a genuine left-wing party. Both candidates said they would not run a negative campaign. The two are set to meet in a presidential debate on Czech TV on Thursday.
The chairman of the Czech Constitutional Court, Pavel Rychetský, says he is unsure as to whether the court has the authority to rule on presidential amnesties. Speaking on Prima TV on Sunday, Chief Justice Rychetský said there was no precedent in the matter and it was unclear whether a group of senators has the right to challenge the amnesty declared by President Václav Klaus that saw over 7,000 prisoners released and halted long-running court cases, several involving massive corruption. The senators plan to propose on Monday that the Constitutional Court rule out the latter plank of Mr. Klaus’s amnesty; they argue that it contravenes the rights of plaintiffs and thwarts their chance to enforce their claims.
The people of Plzeň have voted against the construction of a retail and office complex in the first ever referendum in the West Bohemian city. An investor plans to build a large centre named Corso Americká on the former site of a house of culture on Americká St., the city’s main boulevard. Some 27 percent of eligible voters took part in the binding poll, which obliges the Plzeň authorities to use all legal means possible to block the construction.
The Czech Republic’s biggest cross-country skiing event, the Jizerská padesátka, has been won by Anders Auckland. The Norwegian skier finished the 50-kilometre race on Sunday less than half a minute ahead of the Czech Republic’s Lukáš Bauer; the holder of three Winter Olympic medals, who is 35, was taking part in the race in North Bohemia for the first time.
The International Federation of Football History & Statistics has named the former Czech Republic boss Karel Brückner as the 15th best trainer of the 21st century. Brückner led the Czechs to three major international tournaments in a row, a feat achieved by no other manager, with the most successful being Euro 2004, when they lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Greece. He shares 15th spot with former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola. Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson topped the poll.
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.