Zeman leads Czech presidential vote, partial results show


Zeman leads Czech presidential vote, partial results show

Voting has ended in the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election and early results show the anti-migrant incumbent with a huge lead. The first official results are expected later in the afternoon. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 26-27.

As he voted in Prague on Friday, Zeman was targeted by a bare-breasted anti-Kremlin protester who called him "Putin's slut", referring to Russia's president.

He has also lashed out against the EU's efforts to integrate refugees from the Middle East and Africa, once saying that Muslim migrants will impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves' hands and stone adulterous women in Europe.

Last October, during a press conference, Milos Zeman took to new levels his open hostility towards journalists by holding a replica of an assault rifle with the inscription: "Towards journalists". 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.

While he has won support among many Czechs by criticizing intellectual elites, they say he's sown doubt over whether the country of 10.6 million people should remain in the world's largest trading bloc.

Zeman's rhetoric and actions has provoked the ire of many Czechs, particularly in the capital, Prague, where Zeman cast his ballot Friday.

For his supporters, Zeman is a frank man, master of ingeniously politically incorrect comments: an old-school politician, heavy smoker and heavy drinker, a president who talks about the fears and hopes of the average Czech. Many voters may switch from their losing candidates to support the runner-up against Zeman.

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

"If Zeman stays, it will bode well for the companies that he promotes, which have business interests in China and Russian Federation", said Pavel Saradin, a political scientist at Palacky University.

Zeman was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote, a victory that returned the former left-leaning prime minister to power.

A win by any of Zeman's main rivals could mean that voices from the Czech leadership may shift closer to the European Union mainstream.

But things could change dramatically if Drahos wins.

Zeman's other rivals include ex-gambler and songwriter Michal Horacek, and former rightwing premier Mirek Topolanek.