The race for the Czech presidency took a potentially important turn on November 5 when former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek entered the fray.
The candidacy of Topolanek, who led the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) as PM from 2006 to 2009, could possibly pose difficulties for the two current favourites in the January election, incumbent President Milos Zeman and Jiri Drahos, who served as president of the Czech Academy of Sciences from 2009 to 2017. If re-elected, Kremlin-friendly Zeman could essentially seek to share power with the expected next prime minister of Czechia, billionaire entrepreneur turned populist 'anti-politician' Andrej Babis, whose anti-establishment Ano movement won the late October general election by a landslide.
Colourful and outspoken Topolanek, who became a high-level manager in entrepreneur Daniel Kretinsky's EPH energy holding after leaving politics in 2010, told media that he is presently neither a member nor a candidate of ODS. He hoped his campaign would be launched with the signatures of senators from five parties in all.
ODS, led by Topolanek from late 2002 to early 2010, is hesitating as to whether to support Topolanek and would make an official announcement early this week, Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes said.
Topolanek resigned as prime minister in March 2009 after his government lost a no-confidence vote. In 2007, he was criticised after raising his middle finger in the lower house of parliament and in May 2009 he was pictured in international media standing naked by a topless woman in the gardens of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's summer house.
His former close aide, the lobbyist Marek Dalik, is this week due to begin serving a five-year jail sentence for soliciting a bribe in connection with a military contract.
Also on November 6, President Zeman’s wife, Ivana Zemanova, announced that 113,038 signatures of citizens had been collected for a petition, entitling her husband to run for re-election.
Zeman said last week that he is running because his followers wished him to do so and that he did not want to disappoint them. He added that he would feel like a coward if he rejected his followers’ wishes and would like to continue with this work because it "is beautiful and interesting", Xinhua reported.
The Czech Interior Ministry said it had registered 10 contenders for the presidential campaign. Entrepreneur Michal Horacek is another of Zeman's main competitors. A poll conducted by the Czech Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM) concluded that around 34% of Czechs who plan to take part in the election would vote for Zeman, while 22% and 13% would back Drahos and Horacek, respectively. The two candidates that come top in the first-round voting will be entered into a second-round run-off if the closeness of the vote requires it.
Candidates can take part in the presidential contest if they collect 50,000 citizens’ signatures or the signatures of at least 20 MPs or 10 senators.
November 7 is the deadline for declaring a candidacy in the presidential election.