Divisive Czech President Zeman to seek re-election in 2018

March 9, 2017
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016 file photo Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman reads a statement at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic. U.S. President Donald Trump’s European ally Milos Zeman says he wants to seek re-election in next year’s Czech presidential election. Zeman made a brief announcement on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at a meeting with his friends and supporters at the Prague Castle, the presidency seat, marking the fourth anniversary of his inauguration. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, file)

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech President Milos Zeman announced Thursday that he will seek a second five-year term in next year’s presidential election.

Zeman, one of the few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, made the announcement to 1,000 friends and supporters at the Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech Republic’s largely ceremonial presidency.

They applauded his decision.

Zeman, 72, was elected in January 2013 during the country’s first directly elected presidential vote, a victory that returned the former lef-wing prime minister to power.

In office, he has become known for strong anti-migrant rhetoric, as well as divided the nation with his pro-Russia stance and support for closer ties with China.

He celebrated Trump’s November victory. Trump has invited Zeman to visit him in Washington in April.

After Trump’s presidential win in November, his first wife, Ivana Trump, who is of Czech origin, expressed interest in becoming the new U.S. ambassador to Prague — a possibility heartily welcomed by Zeman.

Zeman said he shared Trump’s views of migration and the fight against Islamic militants. The Czech leader linked recent attacks in Europe to the ongoing influx of migrants while calling the immigration wave an “organized invasion.”

Zeman’s popularity remains high and there’s no one in sight who would pose a real obstacle to his re-election. He constantly tours the country and creates the impression he cares about regular citizens, unlike the elites in Prague.

“He divided Czech society,” said Josef Mlejnek a political analyst from Charles University in Prague. “Roughly a half of it adores him, supports him or at least respects him, while the other half is very critical of him. He’s like Donald Trump in the United States — he creates two groups or blocs of people.”

Considered pro-European compared with his predecessor Vaclav Klaus, Zeman flew the European Union flag at Prague Castle. However, he gradually has used every opportunity to attack the EU and proposed a referendum on the country’s membership after Britain decided to leave.