Tuesday, 24 April, 2018

Zeman, Drahos Set for Runoff Vote in Czech Presidential Poll

Presidential elections tests the power Euro scepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the Czech Republic Czech elections: Here's all you need to know about the latest challenge to European unity
Sammy Stanley | 14 January, 2018, 15:02

Zeman, a former prime minister, was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote.

The Czech Republic has a tiny Muslim minority and has seen only a few of the hundreds of thousands of people coming to Europe in recent years to seek safety from war or better life.

Zeman has the backing of embattled billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who said the incumbent "fights for our national interests" but called on him to "unite, not divide" Czechs. The Czech presidency is largely ceremonial but the president's role is pivotal when governments are formed, a process the European Union member country is going through at the moment.

Mr Drahos knows he has a good chance of unseating Mr Zeman when the two men go head to head in two weeks' time, he adds.

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. But he has been criticized for ignoring Chinese human rights issues that Czech foreign policy had previously focused on.

"With almost all the ballots counted on January 13, Zeman had 38.6 percent of the vote, with Drahos, a scientist, taking 26.6 percent".

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Polling stations open at 1300 GMT on Friday and close at 2100 before reopening at 0700 GMT and closing at 1300 on Saturday.

A former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Drahos told supporters at his Prague headquarters that he would spend the next 15 days campaigning to "anchor the Czech Republic in Euro-Atlanticism" in a clear jibe at the Kremlin-oriented Zeman.

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. He supports continuing Czech membership in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the EU.

Under the constitution, the president has another attempt and Zeman said he would tap Babis again, should he fail to win confidence.

Zeman and Babis are among the most popular politicians in the country of 10.6 million that is largely eurosceptic and rejects accepting migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

"What I would be afraid of is infiltration by jihadists, and thus a higher number of terrorist attacks in European countries or cities", he said on Thursday night in his weekly interview show, Week with the President, on TV Barrandov.

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