Published: Sun, January 28, 2018
Sci-tech | By Eric Barnett

Czech Republic votes in run-off presidential election

Czech Republic votes in run-off presidential election

Czech President Milos Zeman won a second term in a presidential election on Saturday, gaining the backing of voters for his tough stance against immigration and his courtship of Russian Federation and China. The incumbent Milos Zeman is facing challenger Jiri Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Many see the vote as a referendum on Zeman, 73, a former centre-left prime minister who has shifted sharply to the right, with a brash style that has divided the Czech Republic.

The vote showed Czech voters' concerns over security despite a period of fast economic growth and rising wages. He has pleased some but alienated others by publicly belittling opponents ranging from the last prime minister to intellectual elites and the press. The Czech Republic has received only 12 migrants under the European Union quota system, but billboards across during the campaign read: "Stop immigrants and Drahos".

His stance toward Brussels has been lukewarm.

A victory by Drahoš (68) would have brought a voice more in tune with the European Union into Czech politics and helped set the country apart from its ex-communist peers Poland and Hungary, which have locked horns with the bloc.

Bookmakers, however, have tilted their odds in favour of Zeman's victory.

"This is my last political victory, there will be no political defeats", he told the crowd, flanked by advisers and the leaders of the far-right, anti-EU and anti-NATO SPD party and the Social Democrat party that he once led.

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EPACzech election 2018: Milos Zeman and Jiri Drahos

It is clear that Jiri Drahos is unequivocally pro-EU and an euro-Atlantic candidate.

As well as leading calls against accepting migrants from Muslim countries, he has focused on building ties with Beijing and Moscow, including calling for the removal of European Union sanctions on Russian Federation imposed over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

The presidential run-off was held on Friday and Saturday and over 65 percent of the nearly 8.5 million registered voters have cast their ballots, according to preliminary data.

The two presidential candidates were as different personally as politically. Zeman is brash, with a self-advertised appetite for alcohol and tobacco.

"We did not win this election, but we did not lose as well. I am confident that this energy will not disappear, that it will remain for the benefit of the republic", Drahos said in a televised statement, adding that he did not intend to leave public life after the elections. Mr Zeman has already pledged to give Mr Babis a second chance to form a cabinet regardless of the outcome of the presidential election.

But police charges that Babis illegally obtained subsidies as a businessman a decade ago - which he denies - have left his party without ruling partners.

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