Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round

Czech President Milos Zeman arrives to cast a vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Prague, January 12, 2018Image copyright

Image caption

Milos Zeman remains popular in rural areas

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

With most results in, he had 39.3% with nearest rival Jiri Drahos on 26.2%.

However, the BBC’s Rob Cameron in Prague says there are indications that the election will go to a second round later this month.

Mr Zeman, 73, is seeking a second five-year term but has stoked controversy with his outspoken views and pro-Russian stance.

Turnout in the first round, which took place over two days, was about 60%, election officials said.

Most of the early results came from rural areas where Mr Zeman’s support is high. To avoid a run-off he must win more than 50% of the vote, but observers say that is unlikely unless there are dramatic changes in urban results.

If a second round is confirmed, it is expected to be held on 26-27 January.

Image copyright

Image caption

Turnout for the first round was about 60%

Mr Zeman’s forthright views on immigrants and political correctness have struck a chord in rural communities, our correspondent says.

However, urban voters are more likely to agree with his pro-European challengers, who say he has poisoned the political atmosphere and unsettled allies.

  • The politically incorrect president dividing a nation

The first round of voting passed uneventfully apart from a semi-naked protester who tried to disrupt Mr Zeman casting his vote in Prague on Friday.

The topless woman from the feminist group Femen accused him of being in the pocket of Russian President Vladimir Putin. She was bundled away and Mr Zeman then cast his ballot, but was visibly shaken by the incident.

President Zeman has become one of the EU’s most outspoken opponents of sanctions against Moscow and has also made improving relations with China a priority.

Mr Drahos, a pro-European academic, has been forthright in his opposition to the president, saying: “We say in Czech that ‘the fish stinks from the head’ and that perfectly sums up Mr Zeman’s term.”

Who are the main contenders?

Image copyright

Milos Zeman

  • Joined the Communist Party in 1968 during the “Prague Spring”, when liberal reforms were crushed by Soviet intervention
  • After communism fell he joined the left-leaning Social Democratic party and became leader in 1993
  • In 2013 he became the third president of the Czech Republic since it split from Slovakia in 1993
  • In his outspoken remarks on immigration he once said that Muslims were “impossible to integrate” into Europe

Image copyright

Jiri Drahos

  • Studied chemistry and technology and was president of the Czech Academy of Sciences from 2009 to 2017
  • He is a supporter of EU and Nato membership buts opposes the EU’s quota system for distributing migrants, as do all other presidential contenders
  • He considers himself a centrist politician who can unite the country
  • His main support comes from pro-European voters and people living in cities