Czechs choose between pro-Russia incumbent and liberals in presidential polls

Czechs choose between pro-Russia incumbent and liberals in presidential polls

Unless the victor takes more than 50 percent in the first round, the two highest-scoring candidates will go head-to-head in a run-off planned for January 26-27.

Before the second round of the previous presidential election in 2013, Babis told daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) he would vote for Zeman's rival Karel Schwarzenberg because Zeman continued with the capitalist mafia and corruption style of former president Vaclav Klaus.

Zeman was targeted by a bare-breasted anti-Kremlin protester who called him "Putin's slut" as he voted in Prague yesterday, a move experts said might boost his chances judging by an outpouring of sympathy for him on social media.

Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to cast ballots.

Soon after that initial results will indicate which two candidates are likely to contest the expected run-off vote. Zeman was shocked and was took out of the room by two security guards.

Zeman's rhetoric echoes populist-minded eastern European Union leaders - especially in Hungary and Poland - at odds with Brussels over mandatory refugee quotas and various rules they see as attempts to limit national sovereignty.

He has also lashed out against the EU's efforts to integrate refugees from the Middle East and Africa, once saying that Muslim migrants will impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves' hands and stone adulterous women in Europe.

Drahos, who is seen as the biggest threat to Zeman in the election, is a liberal centrist who wants Prague to "play a more active role in the European Union".


After voting in Prague yesterday, Drahos said that the future president "should work in the interest of the pro-Western orientation of the Czech Republic" in a clear dig at Zeman.

"As you can see, my security detail works quite well because she did not get to me", said the Czech president.

"Zeman's camp is very mobilized, but so are his opponents, because he's divided society so much", said Pavel Saradin, a political scientist at Palacky University in Olomouc. Among them, Jiri Drahos is the most likely candidate to advance.

He said he considers Zeman a strong personality that polarises society but does not steal, is not afraid to say his opinion openly, is devoted to politics and fights for the interests of Czech businesspeople. He has the support of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Another presidential candidate, former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, said Babis's support for Zeman is related to the fact that Zeman announced on Wednesday that he would want Babis to present signatures of a majority of MPs supporting his next government before he would appoint him prime minister again.

"We say in Czech that "the fish stinks from the head" and that perfectly sums up Mr Zeman's term", he says.

But the situation could change dramatically if Drahos wins. A former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Drahos favours enhancing relations with the West.

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