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Populist Czech president facing centrist challenger in run-off

Monday, 15 January, 2018 - 13:03

Czech voters will return to the polls on 26 and 27 January for a presidential run-off between the outgoing head of state, the pro-Russian Milos Zeman, who won the first round of votes over the weekend, but fell well short of a majority, and the pro-European Jiri Drahos.

Zeman, 73, known for his pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim opinions, obtained 38 percent of the vote, according to the official results from the National Bureau of Statistics, while Drahos, 68, former head of the Academy of Sciences, won 26 percent.

Despite the large gap separating the two candidates, the second round could prove very tight as the eliminated candidates have all pledged their support for Drahos.

As the first directly elected Czech president in 2013, Milos Zeman, is known for his strong populist rhetoric. Jiri Drahos, a former boss of Czech Academy of Sciences, an opera enthusiast who speaks four languages, said he was optimistic about the results. “By far the toughest game now awaits against Milos Zeman and his advisers… Come to vote, come to vote, come to vote,” he said in front of his supporters gathered in a Prague theatre.

Jiri Drahos campaigns on anchoring the Czech Republic in Europe and in NATO, an indirect to appeal to patriotism against the Russian and Chinese friendships of the president. He is also a strong supporter of the EU in a country where Euroscepticism is on the rise.

Milos Zeman does not hide his admiration for Donald Trump and wants his country to have closer relations with Russia and China. He is critical the European Union and has denounced Muslim immigration to Europe.

The president of the Czech Republic has no executive powers, but he has a significant political weight. He plays a role in choosing the country’s representatives to the European Union, and in the appointment of the governor of the central bank, ambassadors and Constitutional Court judges.



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