PRAGUE: Karel Schwarzenberg, a bow-tied 75-year-old prince whose estate includes castles and forests, is channelling the Sex Pistols in a bid to be Czech president.
Mr Schwarzenberg has emerged as the surprise challenger to the former premier Milos Zeman in the nation's first direct election for president. Campaign images portraying the prince in a Mohawk and screaming ''Karel is Not Dead'' are appealing to voters generations younger than the candidate.
''He represents the better, modern side of our nation,'' student Klara Dvorakova said earlier this month after Mr Schwarzenberg left Mlejn, a smoky pub near Prague Castle where he often grabs a beer alongside young supporters in T- shirts sporting his mohawked image. ''He's noble, elegant.''
His advance to a run-off vote this weekend highlights a rift in the Czech Republic. A recession and corruption are fuelling support for the political heirs of communism, who have endorsed Mr Zeman.
Mr Schwarzenberg, a former aide to the late president Vaclav Havel, wants to bolster US and European Union ties after a decade under President Vaclav Klaus, a Euro-sceptic seen by critics as too close to Russia.
Mr Schwarzenberg represents a ''continuation of Havel's legacy, which contains much deeper values than just the battle between left and right'', said Jiri Pehe, a former Havel adviser. ''This includes representing the Czech Republic abroad with dignity, attention to human rights, and much less desire, compared with Klaus, for dividing Czech society.''
The president picks the leader to form a cabinet after elections. That is often a key role in a country where balloting frequently fails to produce a majority.
Mr Schwarzenberg is a promoter of human rights and closer ties with the US. He backed members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot last northern summer when they were convicted for a stunt against the President, Vladimir Putin, and said the Premier, Petr Necas's, view backing the group might hurt Czech exports to Russia was ''shocking''.
His foreign outlook has shaped his fondness for Mlejn, whose owners organised a campaign to support a Bush administration plan to install part of a missile-defence network in the Czech Republic.
In 2008, Mr Schwarzenberg took Condoleezza Rice, then US secretary of state, to Mlejn to meet the system's supporters. Barack Obama scrapped the plan a year later as part of his ''reset'' of relations with Russia.
Austerity policies have been a focus of the race. Mr Zeman, 68, a former Social Democrat leader who forged a grand coalition in 1998 with Mr Klaus's centre-right party, has slammed Mr Schwarzenberg for backing tax increases and cutting spending on public wages.
Mr Klaus, who often clashed with Havel, has said his successor should be someone who spent his life in the country, a swipe at Mr Schwarzenberg, whose aristocratic family was forced to leave for Austria when communists took over in 1948.
After Mr Schwarzenberg defied the polls to finish a surprise second in the first round, the race appears too close to call.
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