Czech pres­i­dent leads vot­ing, but will face runoff elec­tion

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - WORLD - BY KAREL JANICEK

PRAGUE — Czech Pres­i­dent Mi­los Ze­man failed to win re-elec­tion dur­ing the first round of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Satur­day and will face a runoff in two weeks against the former head of the coun­try’s Academy of Sciences.

Ze­man and Jiri Dra­hos ad­vanced to a sec­ond round of vot­ing be­cause none of the nine can­di­dates seek­ing the Czech Repub­lic’s largely cer­e­mo­nial pres­i­dency re­ceived a ma­jor­ity of votes in the first round held Fri­day and Satur­day.

How­ever, with al­most all bal­lots counted by the Czech Sta­tis­tics Of­fice, Ze­man had 38.6 per­cent of the vote, a com­mand­ing lead over Dra­hos’ 26.6 per­cent.

A former diplo­mat, Pavel Fis­cher, was a dis­tant third with 10.2 per­cent. Song­writer Michal Ho­racek fin­ished fourth with 9.2 per­cent, ahead of physi­cian Marek Hilser, who had 8.8 per­cent. The three pledged their sup­port to Dra­hos in the runoff.

Ze­man con­grat­u­lated Dra­hos and said he was ready to de­bate him be­fore the Jan. 26-Jan. 27 runoff. Ze­man didn’t take part in any de­bates ahead of the first round of vot­ing.

“Mr. Dra­hos said that he would like to meet me face to face. I am happy to oblige him,” the pres­i­dent said.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials said voter turnout was 61.9 per­cent in the pre­lim­i­nary elec­tion. Dra­hos called on all those “who want a change” to cast bal­lots in the runoff.

“The fi­nal is still ahead of us, and that’s what mat­ters,” Dra­hos said.

Ze­man, 73, was elected in 2013 dur­ing the coun­try’s first di­rect pres­i­den­tial vote, a vic­tory that re­turned the former left-lean­ing prime min­is­ter to power. As pres­i­dent, he has be­come a strong anti-mi­grant voice and ma­jor proRus­sian voice in Euro­pean Union pol­i­tics.

A chain smoker with a soft spot for al­co­hol, he was one of the few Euro­pean lead­ers to en­dorse Don­ald Trump’s bid for the White House.

Dra­hos, 68, is seen as more western-ori­ented and firmly sup­ports the coun­try’s EU and NATO mem­ber­ship.

The pre­vi­ous two pres­i­dents of the coun­try cre­ated in 1993 when Cze­choslo­vakia was split into the Czech Repub­lic and Slo­vakia, Va­clav Havel and Va­clav Klaus, were elected by Par­lia­ment.

Un­der the Czech Con­sti­tu­tion, the pres­i­dent picks the prime min­is­ter af­ter a gen­eral elec­tion, one of the of­fice’s key re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The pres­i­dent also ap­points mem­bers of the Cen­tral Bank board and se­lects Con­sti­tu­tional Court judges with the ap­proval of Par­lia­ment’s up­per house.

Other­wise, the pres­i­dent has lit­tle ex­ec­u­tive power since the coun­try is run by a gov­ern­ment cho­sen and led by the prime min­is­ter.

Ze­man was con­sid­ered a more pro-Euro­pean than his eu­roskep­tic pre­de­ces­sor Klaus, but in re­cent years has used ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to at­tack the EU, and has pro­posed a ref­er­en­dum on the coun­try’s mem­ber­ship in the bloc af­ter Bri­tain de­cided to leave.

He also has be­come known for strong an­timi­grant rhetoric that won him sup­port from the pop­ulist right. He has di­vided the na­tion with his pro-Rus­sian stance and his sup­port for closer ties with China.

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 says he is wor­ried about the rise of ex­trem­ism and pop­ulism. A pro­fes­sor of chem­istry, he headed the academy from 2009 un­til last year.

[AP PHOTO]

Czech Pres­i­dent and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mi­los Ze­man speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Satur­day af­ter the first round of pres­i­den­tial vot­ing in Prague. Ze­man will face a runoff elec­tion in two weeks against former head of the coun­try’s Academy of Sciences Jiri Dra­hos.

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