The Czech presidential race heated up significantly on Sunday with an announcement by former prime minister Mirek Topolánek that he would throw his hat in the ring in the upcoming presidential election. He has since acquired ten senatorial signatures and can now file to run.
On Sunday he sold himself as someone with the experience and political chops to be head of state without referring to the incumbent’s closest rivals in the polls until now: non-politicians Jiří Drahoš, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences and lyricist and former betting agency owner Michal Horáček.
As prime minister, back in 2009, Topolánek was nothing if not outspoken but his government was not without scandals, including a military contract for which his former close aide Marek Dalík, is to begin a five-year jail sentence this very Monday. Dalík was found guilty of soliciting a bribe in connection with the deal. It didn’t take long for readers online on Sunday to joke that Mr Topolánek would pardon him if elected.
How was the announcement otherwise greeted?
Some such as former political ally Miroslav Kalousek welcomed the news but others, such as the head of the ANO party which won the parliamentary elections in October, Andrej Babiš, lashed out.
That is just the kind of clash that Topolánek used to relish in politics and it is in part against Mr Babiš and the incumbent, Miloš Zeman, that Mr Topolánek is casting his bid.
He explained he had been in no small part been inspired by the political situation following the recent elections, in which winners ANO and Mr Babiš, as he saw it, were not taking strides towards reaching any kind of coalition but were trying to push through a minority government with unprecedented backing from the country’s president – a minority government which could rule for four years even without a vote of confidence, according to President Zeman.
To be fair, that suggestion was quickly rejected by Mr Babiš himself.
As for Topolánek, he made clear he is not running as a candidate on behalf of any single party, including the Civic Democrats.
“One of the five senatorial clubs which will give me signatures will be the Civic Democrats. Of course, I would not get backing from all– I wasn’t on the best of terms with some when I left… My problem, unlike some of the other candidates is not too little publicity and that is something I will have to work on in the campaign.”
For now, the current head of the Civic Democratic party Petr Fiala has said that Mr Topolánek is a seasoned candidate and made clear the party had an interest in seeing change at Prague Castle; others, even a self-described former opponent like deputy leader Alexandra Udženija went further saying she welcomed the bid. The party is to further discuss its stance on Monday. The deadline for all presidential candidates to officially file is on Tuesday at 4 PM; there may be additional shake-ups or surprises, not least if businessman turned politician Tomio Okamura also decides to run.