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Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round

13 January 2018

It is Milos Zeman, the president of the Czech Republic whose voters go to the polls this weekend in the first round of presidential elections that are considered as a referendum on the 73-year-old president. The first official results are expected later in the afternoon.

But a recent poll for Czech Television showed the tide could still turn, with a possible win for Drahos with 48.5 percent of votes predicted for the second round against 44 percent for Zeman.

In 2015, he warned the townspeople of Zlin in South Moravia against an invasion of Muslim migrants.

On these two last points - perhaps here more than anywhere else - Milos Zeman divides the nation. A mild-mannered liberal centrist whom critics have dubbed "wishy-washy", he has called for Prague to "play a more active role in the EU" and has backed the adoption of the euro.

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.

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A woman casts her vote during the country's direct presidential election, at a polling station located in a pub in Prague, the Czech Republic January 12, 2018.

After casting his ballot in Prague, Lubos Seidl said the election boiled down to "a clash between the people who think the old way and those who think the new way".

He has appointed billionaire Andrej Babis, with whom he shares dislike for the EU's refugee policies, as prime minister, even though the tycoon's single-party government doesn't have a majority in Parliament.

Many voters remainied undecided until the last minute, with Prague archivist Marcela Riegerova saying she "ended up tossing a coin to decide between two candidates, and Drahos came out the victor".

"The polarisation of society has deepened in the past months", Saradin said.

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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.

A former center-left prime minister, Zeman has warm relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has called for the removal of European Union sanctions imposed over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.

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.

Songwriter and businessman Michal Horacek, 65, could also vie for a spot in the run-off while support has risen for former center-right Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and diplomat Pavel Fischer.

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Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round