Punk prince and left-wing veteran vie for presidency

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:16am


Czechs went to the polls yesterday to choose a new president between a former communist and a 75-year-old aristocrat whose Sex Pistols-inspired campaign brought the election to life and down to the wire.

The two-day second round will end a decade under Eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus, but few dared to predict who would succeed him, with veteran leftist Milos Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg, the blue-blooded foreign minister, locked in a tight race.

"It'll be very tight. I'm not nervous, far from it, I'm calm, we'll see," Schwarzenberg said upon casting his ballot in Sykorice, a small village near the castle where he lives.

Zeman, 68, scored 24.2 per cent in the January 11-12 first round, narrowly trumping rival Schwarzenberg, who clinched a surprise second spot finish with 23.4 per cent. As both contenders back greater European integration, the republic's first direct presidential election is certain to turn the page on Klaus' strident brand of Euroscepticism.

A well-connected former presidential aide to Czech Velvet Revolution icon Vaclav Havel, Schwarzenberg has trumped Zeman online, scoring over half a million "Likes" on his Facebook campaign page.

Despite being the older of the rivals, dubbed "The Prince" for his noble roots, he is wooing young voters with punk-style pop-art campaign posters, reminiscent of Britain's Sex Pistols band album covers.

Perceived as an intelligent elder statesman who is above corruption due to his independent wealth, the bow-tie wearing, pipe-smoking Schwarzenberg also appeals to older voters.

"He's honest, he doesn't have to steal because he has enough money," said pensioner Libuse Rohlova after casting her ballot in Sykorice.

Others give an edge to Zeman for his traditionally left-wing approach to social spending, and religious issues.

"Zeman is addressing voters from lower-income groups, older and less educated," said Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst from Charles University in Prague.

Czech presidents were elected by parliament until lawmakers approved the switch to popular universal suffrage in February last year.