Tight race for Zeman in the runoff

Shortly before the runoff vote in the Czech presidential elections Jiří Drahoš is slightly ahead of incumbent president Miloš Zeman in the polls. Forced onto the defensive, Zeman agreed to two TV debates ahead of the second round of voting. Journalists, however, found neither candidate convincing in the first of the debates.

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Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Tragicomic TV debate

The debate was a huge disappointment and no help at all to people trying to decide how to cast their ballots, Hospodářské noviny exclaims:

“My God, what this country has had to endure in this first confrontation between the contenders for Prague Castle! Instead of a serious debate about concrete visions we were witness to a row that was more like a pub brawl, complete with screeching spectators. ... In such encounters - as we've known since Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy - every detail counts. That also goes for the TV channel's organisation of the event. The spectacle on Wednesday was at best a tragicomic improvisation. What a pity. So much is at stake in this election. The TV debate did not fulfil its task.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Not what you expect of a serious debate

Lidové noviny is also appalled by the mediocrity of the first of two planned TV debates ahead of the run-off vote:

“So in the end there are two pieces of bad news. First, clearly in this country it's too much to expect a serious discussion about fundamental issues when a president is being directly elected. And second: the voters have sent a politically inexperienced professor, an amateur (challenger Jiří Drahoš) and a professional matador who is long past his zenith (incumbent president Miloš Zeman) into the final round.”

Denik (CZ) /

In panic he is resorting to lies

The editor-in-chief of Denik, Roman Gallo, has harsh words for Zeman's style:

“It's understandable that nerves are frayed in Prague Castle after the first round of voting. Zeman won, it's true, but it won't be easy for him to repeat the performance. Nevertheless his team is way out of line in casting Drahoš as the bogeyman. Zeman knows the allegation is untrue: he is well aware of Drahoš's negative stance on the quota system. Zeman may well become president once again. But victory should not come at any price.”

Denník N (SK) /

President exploiting long-standing fears

Dennik N reminds readers that Zeman already resorted to untruths to get elected five years ago:

“To beat out his rival Karel Schwarzenberg, Zeman made full use of the paranoia vis-à-vis the Sudeten Germans. And that wasn't his brainchild: it was the official ideology under the communists and was long exploited by the political elites and the media even after 1989. Today Zeman is taking advantage of the Czechs' paranoid fear of immigrants, a fear that is also being fanned by the elites and the media - including those who support Zeman's rival Drahoš. So they shouln't complain if Zeman ends up winning with these tactics.”

Denník N (SK) /

Zeman nervous, Drahoš confident

At 39 percent Zeman's result was worse than expected, Dennik N observes:

“Prague Castle needs a plan B. A few days before the elections people were saying that President Zeman could take the race in the first round. As it turns out, however, he didn't even garner 40 percent of the vote. In the Drahoš camp, by contrast, spirits are high. The candidate believes he has good chances and is taking his inspiration from Slovakian President Andrej Kiska, the outsider who beat out the experienced prime minister Robert Fico, who was the favourite to win. Unlike Zeman, Drahoš achieved the result the polls had predicted for him. And already in January one polling agency put the odds on Drahoš in the event of a runoff vote.”

Respekt (CZ) /

TV debate could tip the scales

Zeman avoided direct confrontation with his rivals in the first round but has now said that he is willing to take part in a TV debate with his challenger Drahoš. That could be decisive for the second round of voting, Respekt writes:

“Drahoš will have a hard time [in a TV debate], because he's never done anything like this before. It will call for perfect preparation on the part of his team. Zeman knows exactly what Drahoš's weak points are, for example the fact that he signed a petition put forward by academics in favour of taking in refugees. ... But Zeman, too, has his weak points. His poor health, for example, his alcohol consumption, his praise for former secret service officers and other elite representatives of the socialist era. A skilled debater could use those points to his advantage.”

Forum.tm (HR) /

Moscow and Beijing's accomplice

If Zeman wins the runoff vote Russia and China will maintain their influence over EU member state the Czech Republic, Forum.tm believes:

“When the media of this world write about Zeman they mostly use the epithets 'anti-Muslim', 'pro-Russian' and 'pro-Chinese'. He was the only president of an EU member state who condemned the sanctions against Russia after the annexation of Crimea and advised Ukraine before the Council of Europe to demand money or gas and oil from Russia in exchange. He was the only Western head of state to travel to the military parade in Beijing. And while there he said the Czech Republic could learn a thing or two from China about how to stabilise a state.”