Blog: The Czech Presidential Election and Europe’s Populism Crisis

February 20, 2018

TransCrisis project blog post by Elisabeth Bakke, University of Oslo and Nick Sitter, research affiliate at CPS and professor at SPP

Czech elections – let alone Czech presidential elections – do not always command international attention. Compared to Hungary and Poland – where the radical effects of the victory of populist right-wing parties in parliamentary elections have given new meaning to the term ‘democratic backsliding’ – democracy in the Czech Republic is not under threat. However, the current presidential election (first round January 12–13; run-off on January 26–27) merits attention both on the grounds of the effects it might have on domestic politics and because of its potential wider impact on European Union politics and on European security questions. 

Nine candidates ran in the first round, and as expected, the incumbent president Milos Zeman finished first with 38.6 percent.  Zeman did not do quite as well as some of the polls suggested. Zeman’s strongest rival, Jiri Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, finished second with 26.6 percent. Polls give Drahos a good chance of winning the run-off. Unlike Schwarzenberg in 2013, he is acceptable in wider circles. Of the seven candidates who did not make it to the second round, three non-partisans won between 8.8 and 10.2 percent each. The only experienced politician besides Zeman, former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, received only 4.3 percent. All four have publicly endorsed Drahos for the second round, and one of them (Michal Horacek) even offered Drahos his prepaid billboards. However, much depends on Drahos’ ability to match Zeman in (two) TV debates and to mobilize (new) voters. Turnout in the first round was 61.9 percent; and highest in Prague, where Drahos won. It is expected that the campaign will become uglier in the run-up to the second round. 

Why is it important who wins the run-off? Read the answer on the TransCrisis blog.