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Tattoo-covered professor may play kingmaker in Czech presidential election

Published time: January 10, 2013 10:09
Edited time: January 10, 2013 14:09
Vladimir Franz, university teacher, painter and composer. (Reuters / David W Cerny)

Vladimir Franz, university teacher, painter and composer. (Reuters / David W Cerny)

An exotic-looking opera composer and painter who was compared to ‘an exotic creature from Papua New Guinea’, is holding a surprise third position in opinion polls ahead of Czech Republic’s first-ever direct presidential election this week.

­It’s no surprise that Vladimir Franz, a 53-year-old professor at Prague's Academy of Performing Arts, received such a vivid description by a debate caller. He is hard to miss in a crowd, with his entire face covered in swirls of red, green and blue.

Admitting to having no experience in either politics or economics, he still ran a successful campaign for the semi-ceremonial position of president of the Czech Republic.

Supporters of Vladimir Franz carry banners of him as they prepare an election campaign rally in Prague. (Reuters / Petr Josek Snr)
Supporters of Vladimir Franz carry banners of him as they prepare an election campaign rally in Prague. (Reuters / Petr Josek Snr)

­The country is electing a replacement for Václav Klaus, who is barred from holding the office for another term by the constitution. The ballot on Friday and Saturday will be the first after a reform which took the power to elect the head of state from the national parliament and made it an issue of popular vote.

Franz, an independent candidate with no party affiliations, entered the race after a group of admirers launched the ‘Franz for President’ initiative and plead him to shake up the election with his shock factor.

Since then he has spent US$25,000 from donations on his campaign. Most of his staffers, including a leading economist, are working for free. He didn’t put up any posters, focusing instead on social media and Internet audiences. A Facebook page for his campaign scored more than 55,000 ‘likes’ – far more than other candidates. Franz’s message highlights graft and underlines the importance of education and the nation's moral standing.

"The (political) system is so enchanted with itself that it's lost the ability to self-reflect," he said in an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday. Czechs, he says, "are fed up with this crap."

Vladimir Franz (C), university teacher, painter and composer arrives to a rally in Prague November 5, 2012. (Reuters / David W Cerny)
Vladimir Franz (C), university teacher, painter and composer arrives to a rally in Prague November 5, 2012. (Reuters / David W Cerny)

­Franz is especially popular with young voters, who are enthusiastic about his non-conformist stance. In a mock election in 441 Czech high schools last month he won by a landslide. But many of his “voters” are too young to be eligible to have a say in the real election.

He is seen as “a candidate who is not tainted by politics,” said Karel Strachota, who organized the school ballot. “They look with sympathy at his nonconformity and the way he presents himself.”

The tattooed face of Franz apparently makes little difference compared to his lack of experience in politics for voters in Czech Republic, where he has been a well-known figure for quite some time. He says the pictures on his skin are signs of free will and lack of harm anyone’s freedom.

The artist makes little secret that he is unlikely to abandon art for politics. He had to cut short a televised debate to appear at Prague's National Theater. But he committed to staying to the end of another round on Thursday at the cost of not attending a world premiere at the opera, saying his credibility demanded it.

He is expected to win around 11 per cent of votes in the first round, which is not enough to beat his main competition, centrist Jan Fischer and leftist Milos Zeman. But the two politicians may seek his endorsement in the second round, which may be held on January 25–26.

Currently Zeman, who was the county’s prime minister in 1998–2002, leads the polls with about 25 per cent of votes. Fischer, who led a caretaker government in 2009–2010, has about 20 per cent support.

Czech fully-tattooed artist and drama professor Vladimir Franz speaks during his campaign for the Czech presidential elections 2013. (AFP Photo / Michal Cizek)
Czech fully-tattooed artist and drama professor Vladimir Franz speaks during his campaign for the Czech presidential elections 2013. (AFP Photo / Michal Cizek)

­The artist makes little secret that he is unlikely to abandon art for politics. He had to cut short a televised debate to appear at Prague's National Theater. But he committed to staying to the end of another round on Thursday at the cost of not attending a world premiere at the opera, saying his credibility demanded it.

He is expected to win around 11 per cent of votes in the first round, which is not enough to beat his main competition, centrist Jan Fischer and leftist Milos Zeman. But the two politicians may seek his endorsement in the second round, which may be held on January 25–26.

Currently Zeman, who was the county’s prime minister in 1998–2002, leads the polls with about 25 per cent of votes. Fischer, who led a caretaker government in 2009–2010, has about 20 per cent support.

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