In Czech Republic, a leading presidential candidate has a full-face tattoo

Presidential candidate Vladimir Franz. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Presidential candidate Vladimir Franz. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

File this under, "Things that could never happen in America." That man is Vladimir Franz, a Czech composer who is tattooed from head -- and face -- to toe, and he's third in the polls in the Czech Republic's presidential election, which is going on Friday and Saturday.

This is the first time Czechs will directly elect a president -- a mainly ceremonial position because the prime minister largely runs the country.

Since the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic has had two presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, and both were elected by Parliament. But both of those elections were plagued by charges of corruption, so the legislature handed over the vote to the general public.

Klaus, the incumbent, called the direct elections "a fatal mistake" because someone like Franz might succeed him.

 Petr David Josek/AP/dapd
Petr David Josek/AP/dapd

Franz, a composer and 53-year-old professor at Prague's Academy of Performing Arts, campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, education and morality, gathering 88,000 signatures in a petition for his candidacy in 2012. The Guardian reports that his tattoos don't seem to bother most Czechs, especially the youth:

He has proved 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, winning more than 40% of the approximately 60,000 votes cast.

Ein taetowierter Professor will die Tschechen aufwecken

In a recent profile with British Channel 4 news, Franz waxed philosophically about his colorful appearance:

"Tattoos are an expression of free will, which do not interfere with the freedom of others," he said.

"To have his own aesthetic view of the world is the right of every free individual. To me, it is also an expression of the permanent decision to stand up for my choices, good and bad. My tattoo is the result of a long-term sophisticated conception, not a sudden movement of the mind.

"To rate a human being only according to appearance - no matter if it was given by nature or voluntarily by himself - is a sign of superficiality and arrogance at the same time."

Czech presidents represent the Czech Republic abroad and appoint central bankers and judges. Former prime ministers Milos Zeman and Jan Fischer are the favorites in this campaign, according to polls. If no candidate wins the majority, as is likely, the two top performers will face a runoff later this month.

"I don't know if I'll make the second round, but the most important thing is that the nation is waking up," Franz said after casting his ballot in Prague on Friday.

Still, it's an important moment for body-art fans everywhere.

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Max Fisher · January 11, 2013