Czech Republic Holds First Popular Election for President

by Sara Helmi, Devin McCarthy // Published January 30, 2013
Czech elections

On January 26, Czech citizens had the chance to directly elect their president for the first time since the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993.  Prior to a constitutional amendment in 2012, the Czech president was elected indirectly by the Czech parliament.

The Czech Republic chose to use a majority runoff system for its presidential election - the method used by most presidential democracies around the world. If no candidate wins a majority of votes in the first round of elections, a runoff election between the top two candidates is held.

As current president Vaclav Klaus is finishing his second term and is forbidden by the Czech constitution from running for a third, the election field was wide open. Two front-runners emerged, however: former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and current foreign minister Karl Schwarzenberg.

In the first round of the election, held on January 11-12, nine candidates (including three women) were on the ballot. As none of the nine received more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getting candidates, Zeman (24%) and Schwarzenberg (23%), advanced to the second round. The runoff election, which took place last weekend, allowed voters to pick between those two. Zeman proved to have the most support, winning 55% of the runoff vote and election to the presidency.

The new Czech system of electing presidents is superior to the American Electoral College system in several ways. In this election, every Czech citizen had the opportunity to cast a ballot of equal value for president, no voters could be safely ignored by the candidates, and the winner was guaranteed to be the candidate who had the support of the majority of the electorate. Because a runoff was used, there was no risk of voters splitting their votes in the final round.

The system could still be improved further by implementing instant runoff voting, which would require only one election instead of two and would allow voters to rank candidates in order of their preferences. Nonetheless, the first Czech presidential election using a majority runoff system should be considered a success.