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Tattooed artist Vladimir Franz woos in Czech presidential vote despite having no political track record
Presidential candidate Vladimir Franz poses poses with his ballot at a polling station in Prague on January 11, 2013. Czech polling stations were opened on January 11 afternoon in local mid-time for the first round of the first Czech direct presidential election in history. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK.

By: Jan Flemr

PRAGUE (AFP).- His smiling 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 head to the ballot box Friday in their first direct presidential vote to replace their two-term head of state Vaclav Klaus, a staunch eurosceptic.

The winner will also have to measure up to Vaclav Havel, the icon of the peaceful 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution who served as the first post-communist president. A playwright, he 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 "citizen's candidate", he has urged voters to overcome any apathy they may have towards 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 told AFP.

"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 which 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 colour 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. I have no doubt he would be quick to find his place and make us very visible in the world," enthuses Verunka Zaoralova in a comment on Franz's Facebook page.

"He may seem dirty from outside, but he's definitely clean inside," adds Mati Brunt on Facebook.

But Franz stands little chance of making it into the election's second-round run-off that is slated for January 25-26.

He is unlikely to endorse either left-winger Milos Zeman, the odds-on favourite, or his right-wing rival Jan Fischer, both politically savvy former prime ministers 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 colourful fixture in the historic centre 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 civilisation -- also premieres on the eve of the vote.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

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