Czech Presidential Election Underway: Anti-Mass Migration Zeman is Favourite


Czechs headed to the polls on Saturday for the final day of first-round voting in a presidential election that has put current pro-Russian President Milos Zeman up against liberal pro-European challengers. A 68-year-old chemistry professor and former chief of the academy of science, Drahos is pledging to improve ties with the European Union and return "dignity" to the presidential post - a campaign jab against Zeman who has polarized the political landscape.

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

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.

"For the majority of the candidates who present themselves to replace him in the presidential elections, the rethinking of the orientation of the Czech Republic towards the West is one of the main issues on his agenda", the correspondent points out.

The topless activist from Ukraine's Femen group was overpowered by bodyguards and then arrested by police.

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Security personnel also had to help a visibly rattled 73-year-old Zeman, who walks with a cane, to leave the room.

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".

But Prague wine bar owner Eva Simova, 53, told AFP that she was voting for Drahos: "He seems like an honest guy and what's more, I'm sick and exhausted of Zeman".

While opposition parties have decried the allegiance, opinion polls show Zeman's office to be the most trusted constitutional institution, ahead of the government and parliament, whose popularity has suffered amid bickering among coalition parties and several cabinet collapses.

Zeman's lead does not mean an easy win in the second round.

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He also has harsh anti-Muslim views, having once called the 2015 migrant crisis "an organised invasion" of Europe and insisted Muslims were "impossible to integrate". Among them, Jiri Drahos is the most likely candidate to advance. 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.

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

"It is a clash between. the post-communist part of society represented by Zeman and the other part, say, modern, pro-Western, which simply doesn't want this president any more", he told AFP.

Babis, whose populist ANO movement scored a landslide win in general elections last October with its anti-corruption and anti-euro campaign, will need to be on good terms with the next president.

Milos Zeman once said he wanted "death for all abstainers and vegetarians", he has declared war-literally-to journalists and on environmental groups he said he would treat them "in the medieval way: he would burn them, urinate on them and I would throw salt at them".

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