Czech president leads voting, but will face runoff election

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis addresses lawmakers during a Parliament session in Prague Czech Republic Wednesday Jan. 10 2018. Czech Republic's Parliament gathered for a confidence vote for a newly appointed government led by Babis. Pho

His main opponent, Jiri Drahos, who is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has gained 26.02 percent, according to preliminary data.

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 has been accused of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has called Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula an 'accomplished fact.' He has also been very critical in the EU's enablement of massive Islamic immigration.

Zeman leads polls and should pick up a strong vote outside Prague and other cities on Friday and Saturday, but is expected to fall short of winning over 50 percent of the vote and may face a strong challenger in a run-off set for January 26-27.

Zeman's attitude to the European Union, of which the Czech Republic is a member, echoes populist-minded eastern EU leaders - especially in Hungary and Poland - at odds with Brussels over mandatory refugee quotas and various rules which they see as attempts to limit national sovereignty.

Zeman, who is known as a supporter of Israel, also has voiced support for Trump's plan to move the USA embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 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 currency.

As the results rolled in, analyst Jiri Pehe told AFP that "Zeman will have a huge problem in the second round".

After voting in Prague on Friday, Drahos said the future president "should work in the interest of the pro-Western orientation of the Czech Republic" in a clear dig at Zeman. The three pledged their support to Drahos in the runoff.

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Horacek tweeted a picture of him hugging Drahos and wished him "a lot of strength for the fight to come".

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

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 told a news conference: "I see him as a strong personality which is polarising society, but mainly as someone who does not steal, who has results, who keeps his word. and unlike other politicians, he does not live from politics, he lives for politics". "The polarisation of society has deepened in the past months", Saradin said.

Zeman's speech "was in sharp contradiction of our foreign policy and the president had no mandate to do it", Sobotka said at the time.

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

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.

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