Zeman wins Czech presidential first round vote with 90 percent counted

Friday January 12

Czech President Milos Zeman has taken an early lead as votes are counted in the presidential election.

Milos Zeman was elected to the largely ceremonial post in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote, a victory that returned the former left-leaning prime minister to power.

He was one of the few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump's bid for the White House, and has voiced support for Trump's plan to move the USA embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Zeman is set to face Drahos in the run-off vote on January 26-27.

The previous two presidents of the republic created in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, were elected by Parliament.

Otherwise, the president has little executive power since the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister. Among other powers, the president has the right to name central bank board members and is the commander-in-chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member's military.

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.

For his supporters, Zeman is a frank man, master of ingeniously politically incorrect comments: an old-school politician, heavy smoker and heavy drinker, a president who talks about the fears and hopes of the average Czech.

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Zeman was considered a more pro-European than his euroskeptic predecessor Klaus, but in recent years has used every opportunity to attack the European Union, and has proposed a referendum on the country's membership in the bloc after Britain chose to leave. The 73-year-old is also seen as receptive to authoritarian regimes, while becoming one of Russia's most dependable allies in Europe. "But, like elsewhere in Europe, people are dissatisfied, and Zeman is feeding the fire by creating an imaginary enemy; he's attacking educated people, NGOs and immigrants".

The media has been another target for him.

"It could indicate the end of the first democratic republic and the onset of the second republic". He told Vladimir Putin during their meeting in China that there were too many journalists and some should be "liquidated".

In his campaign he has promised to be the president of "the 10 million down", in a clear snub to the country's urban and liberal elites, who did not vote for him in the last elections. They are also pivotal in forming governments - which the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member country is now trying to do.

The former president of the Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos, and popular song writer Michal Horacek are considered major challengers.

Drahos is a political newcomer who is not affiliated with a political party and has said he wants the values of "truth, reason and decency" to win. The professor of chemistry says he is anxious about the rise of extremism and populism and warned against Russia's possible interference in the ballot.

The other seven challengers all had less than 11 percent.

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