Totally tattooed professor nicknamed Avatar is now THIRD in race to be Czech president
- Tattooed presidential candidate Vladimir Franz may become kingmaker
- Third place for this weekend’s elections after poster-less campaign
- Performing arts professor, nicknamed ‘Avatar’, has no political experience
By Sara Malm
PUBLISHED: 08:57 EST, 9 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:40 EST, 9 January 2013
With no political experience and little knowledge of economics, performing arts professor Vladimir Franz was already an unlikely candidate for the Czech Republic presidential election.
The fact that 90 per cent of his body is covered in tattoos makes it even more surprising that not only is he standing for election – he currently stands third in the polls.
One in nine voters are believed to be planning on backing the 53-year-old opera composer and painter in this weekend’s presidential elections after a £15,000 election campaign that didn’t even include posters.
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He’s tipped to win around 11 per cent in the first round of votes on Friday and Saturday, which is not enough to go through, but may make him kingmaker.
Leading candidates Jan Fischer and Milos Zeman, both former prime ministers, ought to be keen to benefit from his following if the vote goes to a second round. And Mr Franz, a Professor at Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, is not short of admirers.
In a country where voters are increasingly tired of corrupt politicians who, they say, fail to keep promises more than two decades after the fall of communism, Mr Franz’s agenda of promoting human rights, democracy and green energy policies has made an impact.
‘The (political) system is so enchanted with itself that it has lost the ability to self-reflect,’ he said in an interview yesterday.
‘Czechs are fed up with this c**p.’
Competition: Both Jan Fischer, left, and Milos Zeman, right, are former prime ministers of the Czech Republic
Mr Franz says he only threw his hat in the ring after a group of admirers established the Franz for President initiative and begged him to shake up the race through his shock factor.
But he’s stirred up such goodwill that a leading economist offered his services for free and his campaign workers are also volunteers.
He’s only spent £15,575 ($25,000) from donations on his campaign and hasn’t put up any posters.
Franz burst onto the political scene with an eye-catching 88,000 signatures from the public at the end of 2012 – far more than the 50,000 required by law.
Not affiliated with any party, he has campaigned mostly on a platform highlighting graft, the importance of education and the nation’s moral standing.
He’s proven particularly popular with young voters – and those not yet eligible to cast a ballot.
In a mock presidential election at 441 high schools across the country a month before the vote, Franz won by a landslide, garnering more than 40 per cent of some 60,000 votes.
And, perhaps surprisingly, few take issue with his tattoos.
‘Personally, I wouldn’t vote for him – but (the tattoos) are not a problem at all,’ said Tomas Pistora, a 33-year-old IT specialist from Prague. ‘The young people prefer him because they don’t have a better choice.’
‘The tattoo doesn’t make any difference,’ said Jakub Fisera, a student in Prague, adding a lack of experience in politics was more an issue.
For the first time, the Czech president will be elected in a popular vote – a new system that makes it possible for independent candidates like Franz to run for the largely ceremonial post.
Vaclav Klaus, the incumbent, opposed the change, calling it ‘a fatal mistake’ and said he feared the likes of Franz might succeed him.
A total of nine candidates are running. Unlike the Euro-skeptic Klaus who attacked the EU at every opportunity, the favorites, Zeman and Fischer, have a more moderate approach to the bloc which the country joined in 2004.
Zeman, the leftist premier in 1998-02, leads the polls with about 25 per cent support. Fischer, a centrist and a former state bureaucrat, gained significant popularity when he led a caretaker government in 2009-10. He polls at about 20 per cent.
As the campaign approached its end on Tuesday, eight candidates were busy drumming up votes. The ninth – Franz – had other matters to deal with: a final rehearsal of his opera, War With The Newts, at the State Opera.
Torn between art and politics, Franz cut short his appearance at an election debate to return to the opera house that is part of Prague’s National Theater.
But he committed to staying to the end of Thursday’s final televised debate. It wasn’t an easy choice, but he realized his credibility demanded that he take part.
‘For a Czech composer to have a world premiere in the National Theater is something extraordinary. I had to make a choice between a service to the public and the fulfillment of my life-long dream. I’ve made the choice and will be at the debate.’