Miloš Zeman leads first round of Czech Republic presidential elections

by Garry Watts January 14, 2018, 0:04
Miloš Zeman leads first round of Czech Republic presidential elections

Under the Czech Constitution, the president picks the prime minister after a general election, one of the office's key responsibilities.

Mr Zeman says he is an EU-federalist and that he favours a referendum on leaving the European Union, although he would vote to stay in the bloc.

He has also lashed out against the EU's efforts to integrate refugees from the Middle East and Africa, once saying that Muslim migrants will impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves' hands and stone adulterous women in Europe.

Czechs go to the polls this weekend in the first round of a presidential election.

The vote, likely to end in a run-off in two weeks, is seen as a referendum on 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has harshly criticized migration from Muslim countries and is keen to boost ties with Russian Federation and China.

The president is also expected to advance the country's political trajectory by toeing the line of policies of the elected parliament.

"Prague Castle (the official presidential residence) needs to be fumigated", headds.

"Not everyone has seen these relationships beneficial to the country", says Cameron.

Michal Horacek, music producer, entrepreneur and now presidential candidate told the BBC: "I do not want the Czech Republic to become a Trojan horse for entities like the Russian Federation and China".

Opinion surveys show the divisive 73-year-old ex-communist, who is also staunchly anti-Muslim and pro-China, leading the pack of nine candidates ahead of Jiri Drahos, 68-year-old pro-European former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Presidential elections tests the power Euro scepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the Czech Republic
Czechs Head to the Polls to Elect Next President

"It has damaged our worldwide reputation, it has isolated key economic and security partners, it has cheapened public discourse and is giving more and more pleasure to extremists".

On these two last points - perhaps here more than anywhere else - Milos Zeman divides the nation.

"Zeman's camp is very mobilized, but so are his opponents, because he's divided society so much", said Pavel Saradin, a political scientist at Palacky University in Olomouc.

His "astute comments", however, have caused controversy and "shame".

After voting in Prague on Friday, Drahos said the future president "should work in the interest of the pro-Western orientation of the Czech Republic" in a clear dig at Zeman.

"Look at the inscription", Zeman said smiling about the toy gun he had received during a visit to the west of the country. It was an unprecedented appearance for a man who calls himself a leftist. He called on all those "who want a change" to cast ballots. Suffering from type 2 diabetes and related nerve damage to his big toe, he is barely able to walk during public appearances, and leans heavily on a cane.

According to the Czech Statistical Office, the turnout at the voting was about 60 percent. "They are targeting liberal voters from the cities".

If the opinion polls and betting odds are to be believed, they are ready to re-elect him.

But if one of the rivals wins, this will represent a huge change in the politics of this country that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

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