Czech voters head to the polls to choose their next president

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By Euronews  with AFP
Voters in the Czech Republic are heading to the polls on Friday and Saturday to choose their next president
Voters in the Czech Republic are heading to the polls on Friday and Saturday to choose their next president   -   Copyright  Petr David Josek/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Voters in the Czech Republic are heading to the polls this Friday and Saturday to choose their next president. The winner will become head of state in a country battling record inflation and bulging public finance deficits because of the war in Ukraine.

Eight contenders are in the running, but three challengers appear to be in serious contention for victory. 

Among the favourites is former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, 68, a billionaire populist who was recently acquitted in a fraud trial. He has been plagued by his communist past as an alleged secret police agent and has also had to defend questions about his business dealings.

Retired army chief Petr Pavel, and former University head Danuše Nerudová are also in the running.

Pavel is campaigning on a bid to "restore order" in the EU member and offer "experienced and calm leadership". His military career included leading the NATO Military Committee from 2015-2018.

Petr David Josek/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
Gen. Petr Pavel, former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, poses for a photo in PraguePetr David Josek/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved

Nerudová is a career academic who rose to become the rector of Mendel University in her hometown of Brno, and has vowed to "leave the ego behind" and "communicate with all groups of people".

They'll be hoping to galvanise the centrist voters who ousted Babiš at the last general election in 2021.

Petr David Josek/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Presidential candidate Danuse Nerudova smiles prior to a political debate at the National Museum in PraguePetr David Josek/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Observers say it is highly unlikely that any candidate will secure over 50% of the vote in the first round, meaning that a second round between the top two contenders is expected later this month.

The winner will succeed 78-year-old Milos Zeman, whose final term ends in March. The new president will be the fourth since the Czech Republic emerged as an independent country after splitting with Slovakia in 1993.