Thursday, 24 April 2014

Candidates meet in TV debate on eve of presidential polls

11 January 2013

Prague, Jan 10 (CTK) - All nine candidates running for Czech president met in a debate on public Czech Television (CT) on Thursday evening, eighteen hours ahead of the start of the first round of the country's first ever direct election of the head of state.

The candidates answered questions asked by popular moderator Vaclav Moravec, such as what are their weak points they would have to do away with, if elected president, whether president should use a Czech- or foreign-made car and how president can undermine people's national pride.

Milos Zeman, former Social Democrat (CSSD) prime minister now running for the Citizens' Rights Party (SPOZ), who is considered an election favourite, said he would not like Czech president to kowtow to big powers.

Karel Schwarzenberg, foreign minister running for his TOP 09 party, said he is afraid of the president being an awkward figure. He and other candidates pointed to the years 1938 and 1968, which were critical for the Czech nation in connection with the Munich Agreement and the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, respectively.

Asked whether they would seek changes to the law on the direct presidential elections, all candidates agreed they would prefer introducing the Austrian model in which a candidate needs at least 6000 people's verified signatures to be registered for the presidential race.

The present Czech law sets the condition of 50,000 signatures, whose validity is eventually checked by the Interior Ministry.

The candidates Thursday criticised the confusion accompanying the ministry's method of checking the signatures and subtracting the invalid ones.

Late last year, the ministry eliminated three candidates from the contest over an excessive number of invalid signatures in their petition sheets. One of them, Jana Bobosikova (Sovereignty), was returned to the contest by the Supreme Administrative Court after a few weeks.

A candidate does not need 50,000 signatures if he/she is nominated by at least 20 deputies or 10 senators.

Besides Zeman, the other favourite who is expected to advance to the second round of the election is former interim prime minister Jan Fischer (unaffiliated), according to public opinion polls.

The other candidates, apart from those mentioned above, are Social Democrat (CSSD) senator Jiri Dienstbier, actress Tana Fischerova, artist Vladimir Franz, Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) MEP Zuzana Roithova and Senate deputy chairman Premysl Sobotka (Civic Democrats, ODS).

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