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Czechs pick between east-looking Zeman and pro-western challengers in presidential vote

14 January 2018

Incumbent east-looking Milos Zeman won the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election on Saturday but runner up Jiri Drahos may pose a strong challenge in the second round in two weeks, almost complete results showed.

Jiri Drahos, the former head of the country's Academy of Sciences, was the clear runner-up with 26.56 percent.

Zeman didn't take part in any public debates ahead of the first round vote he won on Saturday but without the majority he would have needed to avoid a runoff.

They are also pivotal in forming governments - which the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member country is now trying to do.

Zeman secured 38.56 percent of ballots from the election held on Friday and Saturday, while Drahos garnered 26.60, the Czech Statistical Office said.

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Opinion polls show Zeman winning the most votes in the first round of voting Friday and Saturday but too few to avoid a January 26-27 runoff with one of his eight challengers.

Zeman's rhetoric and actions has provoked the ire of many Czechs, particularly in the capital, Prague, where Zeman cast his ballot Friday.

Pehe said a victory for Zeman might "pave the way for a deeper alliance with Andrej Babis, which could lead to a change in some basic parameters of liberal democracy in the country".

Czech President Milos Zeman was confronted by a topless female protester with "Zeman, Putin's Slut" scrawled across her chest as voting began on January 12 in the first round of the country's presidential election.

Standing against the traditional pro-western political establishment that has ruled in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s, Zeman has repeatedly shunned European Union refugee quotas and lent his support to Tomio Okamura, the anti-Islamic, anti-EU leader of the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) that came to power in October.

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"I voted for Professor Drahos because I want someone who will not push us to the East and who will not be a disgrace", said lawyer Matej Gredl (30) after he voted in Prague.

Mr Zeman has promised to give Babis a second chance to form a government if the first attempt fails.

The Czech government is led by the prime minister, but unlike other countries where the president has a largely ceremonial role, the Czech president is involved in numerous country's political decisions. The Czech Republic has a tiny Muslim minority and has seen few of the hundreds of thousands of people coming to Europe in the past years to seek safety from war or better life.

Zeman has been accused of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has called Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula an 'accomplished fact.' He has also been very critical in the EU's enablement of massive Islamic immigration.

The incumbent president promotes cooperation with China and Russian Federation and opposes accepting the refugees from the Muslim countries. 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.

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"What I would be afraid of is infiltration by jihadists, and thus a higher number of terrorist attacks in European countries or cities", he said on Thursday night in his weekly interview show, Week with the President, on TV Barrandov.

Czechs pick between east-looking Zeman and pro-western challengers in presidential vote