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article imageJiri Drahos, the singing scientist running for Czech president

By Jan FLEMR (AFP)     Jan 13, 2018 in Politics

Jiri Drahos, a Czech presidential candidate who will face-off against pro-Russian incumbent Milos Zeman in a run-off in 15 days, is a pro-European scientist with a life-long passion for music.

The chemist and former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences won 26.58 percent in the first round of the presidential election on Friday and Saturday, against Zeman's 38.6 percent.

Drahos has said that he will campaign to "anchor the Czech Republic in Euro-Atlanticism" in a clear jibe at the Kremlin-oriented Zeman.

Analysts say that since he can count on the support of several round-one also-rans, the 68-year-old stands a good chance of beating Zeman in the second round run-off vote on January 26-27.

Favoured by liberal voters and urbanites, the bespectacled, dove white-haired scientist boasts sophistication and manners radically different from those of the current head of state, who can be outspoken to the point of being rude.

But analysts say that compared to the charismatic Zeman, Drahos appears dull, even wishy-washy.

Drahos argues he is simply doing his best to bring decency to politics, which is "neither a weakness nor a reason to be laughed at."

While the physically fit Drahos has said he quit smoking at age 13, Zeman, 73, is a frail-looking chain smoker and passionate drinker who walks with a cane and suffers from diabetic neuropathy.

Drahos has also had a life-long passion for music -- he first played piano in a band he formed with his brother, then they switched to rock, and now he sings in a choir that he joined 43 years ago.

- Farm hand -

Czech President Milos Zeman will face Drahos in a second round run-off presidential vote
Czech President Milos Zeman will face Drahos in a second round run-off presidential vote
WANG Zhao, Michal CIZEK, AFP

Drahos spent his early years in the easternmost Czech town of Jablunkov, where he was born on February 20, 1949.

He has recalled taken up piano and trumpet lessons, but also working at his uncle's farm.

"I first mowed with a scythe at eleven," Drahos said, adding that he had mucked manure and dried hay as well as slaughtering and skinning rabbits.

After secondary school, Drahos moved to Prague to study physical chemistry at the University of Chemistry and Technology.

At 24, he joined the Czech Academy of Sciences, which he ended up leading from 2009 to 2017.

Refusing to join the Communist Party or the Communist secret police, Drahos was an ordinary researcher until the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled totalitarian rule in former Czechoslovakia.

He went on a year-long stay in Hannover, West Germany in 1985, owing to a fellowship provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

"My wife and children had to stay in Prague as hostages," says Drahos.

After 1989, his career blossomed -- he became professor in 2003 and deputy head of the Czech Academy of Sciences two years later.

"My career at the academy has taught me to respect facts and promise only what I'm really able to do, and, of course, endurance," says Drahos.

"As chairman, I led scores of talks with politicians," he adds, answering those who question his experience with politics.

A supporter of his country's EU and NATO membership, Drahos wants the Czech Republic to "play an active role in the EU," but he has also joined the chorus of eastern leaders when he said "a clear no to refugee quotas" proposed by the EU.

Married to librarian Eva since 1974, Drahos likes to spend his free time with his wife and two daughters at a weekend house.

"My wife and I love opera. I also listen to Eric Clapton, John Mayall, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones," says Drahos.

Speaking English, German, Russian and Polish, Drahos also lists hiking and cross-country skiing among his hobbies.

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