PRAGUE – His blue eyes peer out from a face covered in tattoos as Vladimir Franz meets and greets with voters in his unconventional bid to become the Czech Republic’s next president.
Despite having no political track record, the 53-year-old drama professor, classical composer and visual artist — whose entire body is tattooed — is running third among nine contenders, according to some opinion polls.
Voters in this European Union country of 10.5 million headed to the ballot box Friday in their first direct presidential vote to replace Vaclav Klaus, their two-term head of state and a staunch Euroskeptic.
The winner will also have to measure up to Vaclav Havel, the icon of the peaceful 1989 anticommunist Velvet Revolution who served as the first postcommunist president. The playwright died in 2011.
Sporting a fur coat, pointy shoes and a closely clipped mohawk hairdo as he meets voters, Franz hopes his presence in the campaign will inject some down-to-Earth honesty into Czech politics.
Dubbing himself the “citizens’ candidate,” he has urged voters to overcome any apathy they may have toward established politicians.
“The world of art gives you the capacity to speak authentically about things, you’re not infected with the newspeak that people are so fed up with these days,” Franz said. “Plus, I think a piece of pure heart would do no harm in politics,” he said, naming education, tolerance and culture as his priorities.
The approach has won over young voters in a country that sank into recession last year and suffers from chronic levels of corruption.
His campaign took off on Facebook when a meme comparing him to the conservative Klaus went viral.
Franz’s predominantly blue-inked face was set next to Klaus’s portrait, both with the caption “a blue president,” a reference to the traditional color of Czech conservatives.
Since then, the page has scored almost 55,000 “likes”, while Franz garnered a whopping 88,000 signatures from citizens who endorsed his presidential bid.
“He embodies good morals, a man with a flawless past, incredibly well-educated,” said Verunka Zaoralova in a comment on Franz’s Facebook page.
But Franz stands little chance of making it into the election’s runoff slated for Jan. 25 and 26.
He is unlikely to endorse either leftwinger Milos Zeman, the odds-on favorite, or his rightwing rival Jan Fischer, both politically savvy former prime ministers who are expected to face off in round two.
But it could be that Franz’s hour of glory has simply not yet arrived. He was the undisputed winner of a recent straw ballot in over 400 high schools where he scored a landslide victory among 61,500 pupils who will soon be eligible to vote.
Regardless of his present slim prospects, Franz is doing his best to capture the public imagination ahead of voting day.
His campaign vehicle, dubbed “Air Franz One” — a limousine made of two Mini Coopers welded together — has become a colorful fixture in the historic center of the capital, Prague, where he teaches drama at the Academy of Performing Arts.
His new opera, based loosely on Czechoslovak writer Karel Capek’s 1936 science fiction novel “War with the Newts” — a prewar warning to civilization — also premieres on the eve of the vote.