Hořovice, CZECH REPUBLIC – This week, Czechs voted for their president for the third time in the country‘s history, selecting former NATO General Petr Pavel as their new leader.
Until 2013, the president was elected by Parliament, but this system seemed less democratic to some people. The soon-to-be former President Miloš Zeman, who has held the office since 2013, took the advantage, used his excellent rhetorical skills and became the first president of the Czech Republic elected only by people.
Despite the fact that he won again in 2018, he got very unpopular and many Czechs are happy to see him go after 10 years in office, which is the limit set in the Czech Constitution.
The Czech election has always two rounds because it is unrealictic for one of the candidates to get more then 50% of the votes the first time.
This year, after the first round, the two main candidates facing each other January 27 and 28 were Pavel and Andrej Babiš.
Pavel is a bearded, good-looking man, a former army general who served in NATO. He is seen as a more modest representative then Babiš, who is a controversial bussinessman and former Czech prime minister.
Both candidates have a history tied with the Communist regime which formerly held power in what was then Czechoslovakia. It is very interesting and maybe a little bit worrying too, because the Czechs chose two former Communist guys instead of, for example, Danuše Nerudová or Pavel Fisher, who were hot candidates in the first round but had no conections to the Communist regime of the 20th century.
Presidential debates are very popular in Czechia – voters like to watch the candidates facing each other in a live broadcast. Private and state television stations competed to lure as many viewers as possible.
But this year was a little bit different, because Pavel and Babiš led large campaigns on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram. Their goal is clear – to persuade the young voters.
Nerudová, who was the youngest of them all and also the only female, led the largest campaign online and as a result, her main supporters were voters between the ages of 18 and 30. But most likely not enough of them voted, so she didn´t enter the second round despite the expectations.
As soon as the results of the first round went public, she immediately expressed her support for Pavel, and went out to campaign for him, visiting every corner of the small country.
During the campaign, Babiš made a few very controversial comments. In the debate on Czech state television, when asked whether he would send the Army to Ukraine if Poland – Czech NATO partner – were attacked by Russia, he said no, because he wants peace and not war.
It certainly shocked not just Poland, but all NATO members. And it is very likely that they heard it also in the Kremlin.
Despite the fact that the Czech president is usually only a representative figure, the person in that office still has the power to change the direction the country is heading.
Renata Pernegrová is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.