PRAGUE – A former Czech prime minister and an ex-head of the Academy of Sciences are seen as the main rivals to incumbent Milos Zeman in the January presidential vote, after the deadline for candidacy passed Tuesday.
The 73-year-old Zeman, a former communist who is known for his staunch anti-Muslim, pro-Russian and pro-Chinese views, is widely favoured to win a second term by betting agencies.
Seventeen other candidates have thrown their hats into the ring ahead of the first round of the presidential ballot on January 12-13.
Jiri Drahos, the 68-year-old former head of the Academy of Sciences, is the second most favoured candidate, while third is 61-year-old Mirek Topolanek, who was a right-wing prime minister in 2006-9 and only announced he was running on Sunday.
Often criticised for his ties to lobbyists and controversial entrepreneurs Topolanek has, like Zeman, spoken out in favour of banning political Islam in the Czech Republic where most people are against welcoming migrants.
Betting agencies predict fourth place to go to Michal Horacek, a businessman and successful songwriter.
Other candidates include Vratislav Kulhanek, an ex-chairman of the automaker Skoda Auto, and former Czech ambassador to France Pavel Fischer.
Those in the running had to obtain the backing of at least 20 lawmakers or 10 senators, or gather 50,000 signatures in support of their candidacy.
The interior minister will now examine the candidate applications and announce the final ballot list on November 24.
The presidential election comes on the heels of the Czech general election, which took place on October 20-21 and was won by the centrist ANO party led by billionaire and Zeman ally Andrej Babis.
Last week Zeman asked Babis to form the EU member's next government. The billionaire said he would opt for a minority ANO government that would include unelected technocrats.
The second round of the presidential vote will take place two weeks later, 26-27 January, with the two best candidates from the first round going head-to-head.