Czech president willing to debate challenger

Presidential candidate Michal Horacek casts his vote as his we wife Michaela and daughter Julie look on during the presidential election's first round vote in Roudnice nad Labem, on Friday Jan. 12 2018. (Ondrej H

The Czech president, MiloŇ° Zeman, led the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election on Saturday by a wide margin but short of winning outright, partial results have showed, APA reports quoting the Guardian.

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 has been a vocal opponent of Muslim integration and is seen as sympathetic to authoritarian regimes, while also becoming one of the Kremlin's most dependable allies in Europe.

While he has won support among many Czechs by criticizing intellectual elites, they say he's sown doubt over whether the country of 10.6 million people should remain in the world's largest trading bloc.

Zeman leads polls and should pick up a strong vote outside Prague and other cities on Friday and Saturday, but is expected to fall short of winning over 50 percent of the vote and may face a strong challenger in a run-off set for January 26-27.

When Zeman voted on Friday, he was accosted by a topless woman shouting, "Zeman: Putin's slut", a reference to the Czech president's close ties to his Russian counterpart.

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".

Drahos could not be more different.




Zeman's most serious challenger is Jiri Drahos, 68, a chemical engineer and former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences who has campaigned on anchoring the Czech Republic's place in Europe.

As the results rolled in, analyst Jiri Pehe told AFP that "Zeman will have a huge problem in the second round".

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. The three pledged their support to Drahos in the runoff.

A recent poll for Czech Television showed the divisive Zeman could flounder in round two with Drahos poised to score 48.5 percent of votes predicted against 44 percent for the incumbent.

Babis said Thursday he'd vote for Zeman in the election. The encounter left Zeman visibly shaken and looking weak.

After casting his ballot in Prague, Lubos Seidl said the election boiled down to "a clash between the people who think the old way and those who think the new way".

The outcome may influence Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's chances of finally forming a cabinet as his first attempt to rule in a minority administration is likely to be rejected by parliament next week.

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

But things could change dramatically if Drahos wins.

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