Incumbent Zeman leads Czech presidential election: half votes counted

by Abel Hampton January 14, 2018, 1:12
Incumbent Zeman leads Czech presidential election: half votes counted

The vote, likely to end in a run-off in two weeks' time, is seen as a referendum on the 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has harshly criticised migration from Muslim countries and is keen to boost ties with Moscow and Beijing.

"In terms of a possible change in terms of a political movement, this is certainly the most important presidential election [in recent history]".

"The polarisation of society has deepened in the past months", Saradin said.

A former centre-left prime minister, Zeman has adopted a strongly anti-immigration stance, echoing the majority feeling in the country, and has won endorsements from the Communist Party as well as the main far-right SPD group.

In one example in October, then Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka accused Zeman of interfering in Czech foreign affairs and contradicting the government when he repeated his stance against European Union sanctions on Russian Federation over the Ukraine crisis while defending Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula as irreversible.

"I voted for professor Drahos because I want that 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.

Otherwise, the president has little executive power and the country is run by the government chosen and led by the prime minister, now populist billionaire Andrej Babis, a Zeman ally who faces fraud charges.

"He managed to cast himself in the role of the speaker for those disenfranchised, forgotten members of the society", said Stanislav Balik, a political scientist at Masaryk University in Brno.

A struggle for Czech identity?

Voting has ended in the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election, and early results show the anti-migrant incumbent with a huge lead.

"Ever since the beginning of our statehood a thousand years ago, the Czechs have belonged to the European West".

"There is a big disappointment with Mr. Zeman in that position and he is very clearly focusing on Russian Federation and China and trying much more to cooperate with non-democratic countries so that's the first point that is so important for us", said Marketa Adamova, deputy chairman of the liberal-conservative Top 09 party, which did not float a candidate.

Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to cast ballots.

Songwriter and businessman Michal Horacek, 65, could also vie for a spot in the run-off while support has risen for former center-right Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and diplomat Pavel Fischer.

"This looks hopeful", Drahos told supporters and reporters at a Prague theatre after most results had come in.

Zeman and Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, advanced to the second round scheduled for January 26-27 because none of the nine presidential candidates received a majority of votes in the first round.

If no one gains 50 percent or more of the vote in this first round, the two leading candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 26-27.

On the eve of the election, Zeman stayed away from a final debate on national television, citing a prior engagement to take part in a talk-show on another channel.

"It's just too early to tell what will happen", said Pehe.

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