Voices & Choices

Czech Mate? Runoff to determine president

Czech Mate? Runoff to determine president

Czechia (the preferred new name for the Czech Republic, as I learned in a wonderful visit to Prague last week) will hold a runoff election this week to pick its president, with votes cast on Friday and Saturday and results to be announced Saturday night. Incumbent Milos Zeman led 39 percent to 27 percent in the first round, but may well lose to challenger JIri Drahos, who polls suggests is better at drawing the second choice support of backers of the candidates who filed to make the runoff.

As reported by Reuters, the runoff presents a fascinating choice for a country that has gone through a lot over the past century -- independence in 1918, then the Munich agreement leading to a Nazi takeover, World War II and the decimation of the nation’s Jewish population, a tumultuous post-war period where millions of German-speaking Czechs were forced to leave, four decades of totalitarian rule by pro-Soviet communists, and the remarkable Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel in 1989. The populist Zeman has appealed to xenophobia and is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, while Drahos is described by Reuters as a “ staunch pro-European in one of the EU’s most eurosceptic member states.”

In the United States, most of our states would have been done after the first round with 38 percent; good enough to be elected governor or to win a state’s electoral votes in the presidential race. A second-round runoff is one way to uphold majority rule and give voters more freedom to vote their conscience in the first round, and is the most common way to elect presidents around the world. The approach to secure these goals that is gaining steam in the United States is ranked choice voting, which is also used to elect the president of Ireland, as is scheduled to take place later this year.

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