Milos Zeman, the pro-Russian and eurosceptic President of the Czech Republic, will face a pro-EU rival Jiri Drahos in a presidential election run-off on January 26-27.
Mr Zeman, who has earned a reputation for political incorrectness, received 38.6 per cent of the vote, the Czech Statistics Office said on Saturday. Mr Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, won 26.6 per cent of the vote, far ahead of the next challenger Pavel Fischer, a former diplomat who secured 10.2 per cent of the vote. Mr Zeman’s frequent attacks on Muslim immigration and the Prague metropolitan elites earned him popularity outside the Czech Republic’s big cities.
Mr Zeman openly opposes sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the role Moscow plays in the conflict in east Ukraine. He has dismissed the Ukrainian conflict as a civil war, a position that contradicted the Czech government’s official foreign policy. After Britain’s decision to leave the EU in June 2016, Mr Zeman called for a similar referendum in the Czech Republic, but said he would vote for staying.
Mr Drahos has promised to improve relations with the EU and return dignity to the presidential post.
Mr Zeman faces an uphill battle to secure the second five-year term as many voters who chose one of the other seven candidates in the first round are likely to switch their allegiance to Mr Drahos in the second round of voting.
Although the Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial role, the President plays a key role in the formation of new governments as he/she has the power to appoint the prime minister.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis struggles to form a government following an inconclusive parliamentary election in October, in which his ANO emerged as the biggest party, but fell short of a majority. Mr Babis, who has vowed to support Mr Zeman, looks set to lose a confidence motion on Tuesday, but Mr Zeman has already said that he will give him a second chance to form a government.
The Czech Republic’s is the richest post-communist EU member by GDP per capita. The Czechs enjoy the lowest unemployment rate and one of the fastest growth rates among the EU members. Inflation remains in the upper half of the central bank’s target band of 1-3 per cent.
UN Photo/Cia Pak