Published: Sun, January 14, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Zeman Wins First Round of Czech Presidential Election

Zeman Wins First Round of Czech Presidential Election

Czechs started voting on Friday in the first round of a presidential election in which eight candidates are seeking to defeat incumbent Milos Zeman, whose brash style and leanings toward eastern powers have sharply divided opinion.

If a second round is confirmed, it is expected to be held on 26-27 January.

But a recent poll for Czech Television showed the tide could still turn, with a possible win for Drahos with 48.5 percent of votes predicted for the second round against 44 percent for Zeman.

ANO will not take any official position on the direct presidential election since voters are reasonable and do not need any advice on how they should vote, Babis said.

With almost all the votes counted, Zeman was credited with 38.57 percent of the vote in the election, held Friday and Saturday, with Drahoš at 26.6 percent, well ahead of third-placed Pavel Fischer, a former ambassador to France, who garnered just over 10 percent.

Zeman's speech "was in sharp contradiction of our foreign policy and the president had no mandate to do it", Sobotka said at the time.

The incident may wind up helping the frail president by provoking sympathy for him, as Saturday's newspapers blared headlines like, "Attack on Zeman" and "A scandalous incident".

The topless activist from Ukraine's Femen group was overpowered by bodyguards and then arrested by police.

In a 2015 Christmas message, Zeman described the ongoing influx of migrants in Europe as an "organized invasion".

He has strong support mainly in the countryside of the nation of 10.6 million people, and often snipes at Prague elites and the media.

Civic Democrat (ODS) leader Petr Fiala said Babis's support for Zeman was a result of their power pact.

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As Rob Cameron, a BBC correspondent in Prague, points out, these new elections will not only be a referendum on Zeman, but also on the direction the Czech Republic will follow.

Many voters remained undecided until the last minute, with Prague archivist Marcela Riegerova saying she "ended up tossing a coin to decide between two candidates, and Drahos came out the victor".

Independent analyst Jiri Pehe said the vote highlighted a "polarized" society. "But anyway he is targeting different voters to Zeman", Mlejnek said.

President Zeman has become one of the EU's most outspoken opponents of sanctions against Moscow, with his political ally - newly appointed Prime Minister Andrej Babis - echoing his view.

Babis's populist ANO movement won last October's general elections with its anti-corruption and anti-euro campaign, but the Slovak-born tycoon who is facing police charges over European Union funding fraud has failed to woo coalition partners.

Zeman's political ally, newly appointed prime minister Andrej Babis (left), supports the president's.

Among them, Jiri Drahos is the most likely candidate to advance.

But things could change dramatically if Drahos wins.

"The final is still ahead of us, and that's what matters", Drahos said.

Zeman's other rivals include ex-gambler and songwriter Michal Horacek, and former rightwing premier Mirek Topolanek.

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