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A New Czech Presidential Election Promises a New Era in Politics

A weaker Milos Zeman successor is not necessarily a bad thing for the country.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a talk show.
Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a talk show.
Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a talk show for supporters during an election campaign stop in Brno, Czech Republic, on Jan. 9. Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the upcoming Czech presidential election, reported strikes from Myanmar in India, and Russia’s replacement of its top general in Ukraine—again.

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Czechs Go to the Polls

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the upcoming Czech presidential election, reported strikes from Myanmar in India, and Russias replacement of its top general in Ukraine—again.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Czechs Go to the Polls

Czechs will go to the polls for their presidential election on Friday. In doing so, they will vote in a new era for the country’s politics.

For the past 10 years, the country’s president has been the controversial, combative Milos Zeman. If Vaclav Havel, the first president of the independent Czech Republic, “brought Czechia to Europe,” as Klara Votavova, a research fellow at the Europeum Institute for European Policy in Prague, put it to Foreign Policy, then Zeman, its third president, represented more skepticism toward Europe. The Czech Republic is a parliamentary republic, and Czech foreign affairs are formally set by the government, not the president. But Zeman was known for his pro-Russian, pro-Chinese attitudes.

“Zeman’s decade was a very specific decade,” Zdenek Beranek, foreign-policy advisor to the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in Prague, told Foreign Policy. “His style was very controversial and polarizing. This era is over. But, of course, we still dont know who will replace him.”

There are three candidates who are considered viable in the election, which is widely expected to go to a runoff two weeks later: Andrej Babis, the former prime minister; Gen. Petr Pavel, a retired army chief; and Danuse Nerudova, president of Mendel University in Brno.

Babis is the most controversial of the three candidates. The billionaire-turned-populist politician is the only one with real electoral political experience, having been elected prime minister as leader of his ANO party. (He was prime minister from 2017 to 2021.) This week, he was also acquitted of fraud after having been accused of illegally accessing European Union funds 15 years ago.

Votavova suggested that a Babis win—which she considered unlikely—could strengthen the office of the presidency, particularly if his ANO party managed a strong showing in Parliament.

Beranek thought that was less probable.

“Hes a very strong personality,” he said. “On the other hand, he doesnt have Zemans political shrewdness” and would thus ultimately be weaker in office.

The same would ultimately be true of Pavel and Nerudova, he said, both of whom “think strategically about foreign policy. They really understand the strategic environment we are in.” Both would be “pro-Western, pro-European leaders who will base foreign policy on democracy, freedom, and human rights.” Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zeman did recant his past pro-Vladimir Putin stance, but a president who needs less convincing when it comes to Russia’s president will likely be more welcome across Europe and in Washington.

The Czech president doesn’t actually set the foreign-policy agenda. And Pavel and Nerudova, like Babis, would, lacking Zeman’s political experience, likely be weaker than he has been.

But that’s not a bad thing, Beranek said.

“Having a weaker presidency—this is how the system has been designed,” he said. It’s “very unlikely we will have a strong political player like Zeman, or [former Czech President Vaclav] Klaus, or Havel. Its actually good news.” Pavel or Nerudova could become something else. “They both might actually … become natural, moral leaders.”


What We’re Following Today 

Witnesses say Myanmar struck India. The Guardian reported Wednesday that Myanmar’s military launched a strike against pro-democracy forces based near the Indian border and dropped at least two bombs inside Indian territory in the northeastern state of Mizoram. Witnesses told journalists that nobody was hurt but that the bombs did cause “panic.” Indian authorities did not confirm the witnesses’ account. Myanmar’s junta took power in February 2021 and has since tried to crush pro-democracy rebels. A rebel commander confirmed the attack on their camp to the Guardian.

Russia replaces top Ukraine general. Russia replaced Gen. Sergey Surovikin with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, a longtime Putin ally who spearheaded the failed initial invasion last year. Surovikin, who was known for his brutality in Syria—which earned him the nickname “General Armageddon”—was appointed in October 2022 and oversaw the orderly retreat from Kherson, Ukraine, while ordering a bombing campaign that damaged much of Ukraines infrastructure. But he also presided over territorial losses and was in charge when a deadly Ukrainian strike killed dozens of Russian soldiers in Makiivka, Ukraine.

Pro-Russian military bloggers were skeptical that the change would alter the course of the conflict. Surovikin has been demoted rather than fired and will remain a deputy. The British defense ministry interpreted the shift as “a clear acknowledgment that the campaign is falling short of Russia’s strategic goals.”

The Ebola outbreak in Uganda is over. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Uganda’s Ebola outbreak over on Wednesday. This Ebola outbreak lasted for roughly four months, tore through nine districts, and took dozens of lives. It was the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in the history of Uganda. (The worst, in 2000, killed more than 200 people.) The outbreak was caused by the Sudan strain of the Ebola virus. For the WHO to declare an Ebola epidemic over, there must be no confirmed or “probable” cases for 42 days (42 days being two times the Ebola infection incubation lifespan).


Keep an Eye On

Police storm German coal mine village. Police stormed an abandoned coal mine village that was being occupied by climate activists. The activists were at Lützerath to try and stop the expansion of a coal mine, and they had barricaded themselves to obstruct an energy company’s operations. Germany said it needed the coal under the village as it can no longer rely on energy from Russia because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Six injured in Paris stabbing. An attacker wounded six people by stabbing them with a metallic hook in Paris’s Gare du Nord train station during the morning rush hour on Wednesday. The attacker was shot and wounded by police. The weapon is believed to have been homemade. Authorities were not immediately able to identify the attacker or discern a motive for the attack.


Wednesday’s Most Read

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine by Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer 

What We’ve Learned From the War in Ukraine by Ravi Agrawal

Lessons for the Next War by FP Contributors


Odds and Ends 

A stuck but satisfied seal. A seal trapped in a fishing lake has managed not to be captured since appearing in Rochford Reservoir—about 40 miles east of central London—roughly a month ago. He is stuck, and at least one marine medic has said he needs to be captured for his own good, but the seal is happily eating the lake’s fish and so “has no incentive to leave,” said Simon Dennis, a member of British Divers Marine Life Rescue. Dennis likened the lake to the seal equivalent of a “Waitrose,” an upscale British supermarket chain.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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