Czech Republic's presidential candidate Petr Pavel, former NATO Military Committee chairman and former Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, poses with supporters prior to a televised debate at CNN Prima News in Prague, Czech Republic, 11 January 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/MARTIN DIVISEK

Czech Republic voters head to polls in presidential election

Prague, Jan 13 (EFE).- Czech Republic voters on Friday afternoon head to the polls for the first round of presidential elections to replace Social Democrat Miloš Zeman, whose second five-year term ends in March.

Nearly 15,000 polling stations will be open from 13:00 until 21:00 GMT on Friday, and then between 07:00-13:00 GMT on Saturday, after which counting will begin.

More than 8 million citizens have the right to vote in these presidential elections, the third since the return to democracy in 1989.

Polling indicates that no candidate will obtain more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, in which case a runoff would be held within two weeks.

Petr Pavel leads the polls with a voting intention of 29 percent

The favorite is Petr Pavel, a former Czech Army chief of staff and ex-chair of the NATO military committee, with a voting intention of 29 percent.

He is closely followed by former prime minister Andrej Babiš, an agribusiness tycoon who leads the ANO populist opposition movement, who was acquitted Monday in an EU-funded corruption trial.

Candidate and former Prime Minister Andrej Babis talks at his presidential elections campaign event, the last before elections first round, in Brno, Czech Republic, 09 January 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/MARTIN DIVISEK

The third most-supported candidate in the polls is Danuše Nerudová, an economist and former rector of Mendel University in Brno, the country’s second-largest city.

Polls agree that both Pavel and Nerudová, both supported by the ruling Spolu coalition, would win in a runoff against Babiš.

However, local analysts point out that the acquittal in the trial could boost the chances of the former prime minister. EFE