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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (BosNewsLife)– Polling stations have reopened in the Czech Republic for the country’s first direct presidential elections since the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, with a fully tattooed artist and two former prime ministers among the hopefuls.
The winner will replace the euro-skeptic Vaclav Klaus at a time when the nation faces economic difficulties and a public outcry over corruption.
Czechs are choosing among nine presidential candidates, ranging from veteran politicians to an artist whose entire body is tattooed.
Since no candidate is expected to receive over half the vote, a second round is already scheduled for the top two on January 25th and 26th.
POLLS MENTION FAVORITES
Polls indicate the favorites are former leftist Prime Ministers Milos Zeman and Jan Fischer, who led a caretaker government as prime minister in 2009 and 2010.
Unlike outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, the two men are more positive about the European Union, which the Czech Republic entered in 2004.
The conservative Mr. Klaus has often criticized the EU as too centralized and warned that “excessive regulation” by Brussels may suppress competition.
Yet, the kingmaker is expected to be the eye-catching Vladimir Franz, who cast his ballot Friday. The 53-year-old renowned opera composer, painter and professor at Prague’s prestigious Academy of Performing Arts is tattooed from head to toe.
Whoever wins the first round may need Franz’s support as polls show him at third place, despite his running an election campaign only with volunteers and a tiny budget of just over $26,000.
THE FLYING PRESIDENT?
One video shows a young man secretly painting him while flying in the same commercial airplane. Franz suddenly looks at him followed by the catch line: ‘Vladimir Franz for president’.
He admits this may not be enough to make it to the the second election round, but says it is more important that “the nation is waking up”.
Franz has noticed he is a favorite among especially young people who view him as challenging a political establishment they consider corrupt.
He says that when his team started the campaign they soon got a lot of supporters through the social media website Facebook. At that moment Franz realized he had to run for president. He stresses that he “wants and can take responsibility.”
But some see the fully tattooed man as an exotic creature unfit to rule the EU nation of over 10 million people.
FRANZ TO SCARY?
This young Czech man says “most people here will not accept him, but if he will be elected it will be a unique situation for the whole world.”
He wondered: “Where do you have a president with so many tattoos?”
While the job is mainly ceremonial, the president wields political influence in a nation where the economy is shrinking and unemployment stands at just over 9 percent.
Czech politicians have often been at the center of graft scandals, and the fragile center-right government of Prime Minister Petr Necas has been hit by disputes over corruption allegations.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).
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