Prague, Jan 25 (CTK) – Farmers from the Association of Private Agriculture of the Czech Republic (ASZ) arrived in Prague on Thursday morning to express their support for presidential candidate Jiri Drahos with a convoy of 25 tractors that accompanied him from his home to Vitezne Square.
The ASZ maintains the view that current President Milos Zeman, Drahos’s rival in the runoff vote, harms traditional Czech countryside.
The Czech Food Chamber, on the other hand, would like to see Zeman as the president again.
“With regard to the fact that we have met several candidates for Czech Republic’s president, finally with Mr Drahos at the farms last week, we believe and are convinced that he will be a suitable candidate to help preserve the freedom of Czech farmers,” ASZ chairman Josef Stehlik told reporters on Thursday.
The farmers object to Zeman supporting large-scale industrial agriculture, which they claim is harmful to the landscape, soil and the countryside as a whole.
Drahos welcomed their support.
“I just hope that the drivers [in Prague’s rush hour] will survive for a while and that this will not turn against me,” he said.
The convoy of tractors decorated by Czech flags and slogans “Countryside Votes for Drahos” and “Let’s Vote for a Change” departed from Lysolaje, part of Prague 6 district where Drahos lives, and reached Vitezne namesti in the same district in approximately 20 minutes.
The tractors were escorted by the police and there were no major obstacles to the traffic.
According to Stehlik, the farmers have bad experience with Zeman as the president and as former prime minister, too. Stehlik said they believe that Zeman’s cabinet in 1998-2002 slowed down the development of private farms and gave advantage to the businesses taking over Communist farming co-operatives (JZD).
He said they disliked that Zeman decorated former Communist agriculture minister Miroslav Toman and former Slusovice JZD manager Josef Cuba. They criticise Zeman’s cabinet decisions concerning the system of sugar and milk production quota. They also think an amendment to the law on transformation of JZDs prevented a return of about 15 billion Czech crowns to the original farm owners, he said.
The Food Chamber supports Zeman as it says he systematically supports Czech products. Zeman also promoted the conclusion of food contracts abroad and helped in markets such as Russia and China. The chamber said it wanted the termination of sanctions against Russia.
Food Chamber President Miroslav Toman was agriculture minister during Jiri Rusnok’s caretaker cabinet in 2013-2014, which Zeman pushed through despite a protest of the parties in parliament. He is a son of the former agriculture minister decorated by Zeman and a member of Zeman’s advisory team.
The ASZ has 6,500 members, who are further associated in 41 regional and seven membership organisations. Their businesses manage about 40 percent of farming land in the country and produce roughly one quarter of Czech agricultural output.
Drahos and Zeman are to face each other in a final presidential candidates’ debate on public Czech Television this evening. The runoff vote takes place on Friday and Saturday.