(Bloomberg) -- Czech presidential candidate Danuse Nerudova, an economist and university professor, took the lead for the first time in a poll, ahead of former billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis and a former NATO general. 

Nerudova had the backing of 28%, according a Median poll published Friday, up 13 percentage points from a survey in October. Babis, seeking a return to high office, was behind with 26.5%. Petr Pavel, a retired NATO military officer who entered the race as a potential front-runner in September, ranked third with 23.5%. 

The polling was for the first round scheduled for Jan 13-14, involving nine candidates. Should none of them win an absolute majority, the top two contenders will face off in a final round to be held Jan. 27-28. 

Nerudova, 44, the former head of Mendel University in Brno and a political outsider, is running as an independent. She would be the first female head of state in the nation of 11 million. Along with Pavel, 61, she is one of three candidates endorsed by the ruling coalition in Prague. 

Babis, 68, the chemicals, agriculture and media billionaire, announced his run in October, even as he faces a trial over an alleged fraud related to European Union subsidies.

In the Czech Republic, the president’s job is mostly ceremonial, with key executive powers held by the government. But the head of state plays a role in the creation of the cabinet, leads the military, picks central bankers and appoints judges. 

Outgoing President Milos Zeman, Babis’s long-time ally, has repeatedly carved out more powers and imposed his influence over the nation’s executive. 

The poll surveyed 1,010 people between Nov. 9 and Dec. 7, with a margin of error of as much as 3.5%.  

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--With assistance from Peter Laca.

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