Polls have closed in the first day of voting in the Czech Republic, where citizens are choosing among nine presidential candidates. Recent surveys have placed two former prime ministers in the lead.
The next president of the Czech Republic will be the country's third since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. More importantly, he or she will be the first chosen directly by voters, a right they gained last year after a constitutional change.
If none of the nine candidates wins an outright majority, the top two would then enter a run-off at the end of January. Milos Zeman and Jan Fischer are considered the front-runners of this weekend's election, with polls pointing to the pair squaring off in a head-to-head vote.
Zeman, of the center-left Party of Citizens' Rights, has pledged to work with politicians from the right. He previously headed the government from 1998 to 2002 as a member of the center-left Social Democrats.
"I admit I am a left-wing politician, but I'm seeking votes from left to right. A left-wing idiot is as dangerous as a right-wing idiot," Zeman said at a recent meeting with voters.
His main rival, center-right candidate Jan Fischer, has spent much of his campaigning apologizing for his membership in the Czechoslovak Communist Party in the 1980s, asking voters to "weigh this fact against [his] achievements."
Fischer headed the Czech Statistical Office from 1993 to 2000 and then later served as caretaker prime minister from 2009 to 2010.
Another favored candidate is Vladimir Franz, a painter and composer known for his tattoos, which cover his face and body.
Polling stations are to reopen on Saturday morning at 0900 UCT. Voting closes definitively at 1300 UCT on Satuday.
Klaus stepping down after 10 years
The current Czech president has made the most of a role which consists mainly of representing his nation, next to tasks that occur less frequently, such as appointing the prime minister, constitutional court judges and members of the central bank board.
During his two terms, Klaus has earned a reputation for his euroskepticism and making noise on behalf of his country of 10.2 million citizens in a role that's largely ceremonial.
In 2009, he made headlines for being the last of the EU's 27 leaders to sign the Treaty of Lisbon - a roadmap for EU power consolidation and making its bureaucracy more effective - after much heel-digging.
Both front-runners of this weekend's elections would likely take a more EU-friendly approach compared with Klaus.
He must step down in early March in compliance with the two-term limit for presidents in the Czech Republic. Speculation remains about his future. After serving as finance minister, prime minister and president, he has not ruled out taking on another political role.
"Nothing is over," he was quoted as saying by news agency dpa.
kms/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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