President Miloš Zeman has officially announced his decision to run for a second, five-year, term in office. Although the field of declared candidates for the post is still small, political observers say the president will be a tough rival with the undisputed advantage of campaigning in office.
President Zeman announced his bid for re-election in grand style, delivering the message in the historic Spanish Hall of Prague Castle to an audience of 900 supporters who drowned his words in a storm of applause.
On Friday the president officially confirmed the news for the media at a press briefing at Prague Castle. He told journalists he would not be actively campaigning in the presidential election.
“I have decided not to actively campaign in support of my bid for re-election. Other candidates will be doing so and presenting their vision to the public. I shall merely continue working for the country and leave voters to compare those visions with reality and decide as they will.”
Although the executive power is in the hands of the government, the first ever directly elected head of state has kept a high profile in his first four years in office, pushing his powers to the limit and beyond, seeking improved relations with Russia and China and taking a strong stand against immigration. He was also the only EU leader to openly back Donald Trump in the US presidential election.
With parliamentary elections due in October there has been speculation regarding a possible behind the scenes deal for mutual support with ANO leader Andrej Babis, whom the president clearly favours. Observers say that in the second round of elections, which appears almost inevitable, support from Babis could tip the scales in a candidate’s favour.
And, while there have been calls within Prime Minister Sobotka’s Social Democrats for the party to back its-one time leader, relations between the president and the strongest party in government are cool and a reconciliation is unlikely. Prime Minister and party leader Bohuslav Sobotka made a non-committal response to Zeman’s bid for re-election on Thursday.
“The president’s decision comes as no surprise to me, I am sure he would have disappointed many people if he had not decided as he did. His presence in the race will only enrich the selection of candidates both for the public and for the Social Democrats.”
With no party behind him, Mr. Zeman will almost certainly be running for re-election as an independent, as he did four years ago. He said that while he welcomed support from political parties he did not consider it decisive in direct presidential elections and would seek to collect 50,000 signatures in his favour just like any other independent candidate.
Zeman’s official announcement has definitively put the presidential election campaign on the roll, and political parties who had been holding back, waiting for his decision, are now likely to scramble in search of a suitable candidate to back or field.
Among Zeman’s rivals for the post, so far, are lyricist Michal Horáček, businessman Igor Sládek, physician and civic activist Marek Hilšer. Defense Minister Martin Stropnický is seriously considering the possibility as is Petr Kolář, former Czech ambassador to the US and Russia.
All see their main rival in the present head of state and the fact that many parties are looking for “someone who could seriously challenge Zeman” testifies to the fact that, exactly as he planned, Milos Zeman is already dominating the election race.