Czech presidential vote seen as test of pro-Russia incumbent

January 26, 2018
Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman accompanied by his wife Ivana casts his vote during second round of Presidential elections in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. The pro-Russian incumbent Zeman faces the former head of the Academy of Sciences Jiri Drahos in the Czech Republic's tight presidential runoff vote. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE (AP) — Voters in the Czech Republic cast ballots Friday in the second round of the country’s presidential election, a runoff between the Russia-friendly incumbent and a scientist-turned-politician who is seen as more Western-oriented.

President Milos Zeman and Jiri Drahos, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, advanced to the second round after none of the nine candidates in the first round two weeks ago received a majority of votes.

Zeman, 73, is favored to win another five-year term, but polls suggest the runoff with Drahos, 68, that ends Saturday afternoon could be a tight race.

Zeman, a former left-leaning prime minister, became president in 2013 after defeating former conservative foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Since then, he has become known for anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. He also has divided the nation with his pro-Russian stance and support for closer ties with China.

“Five years ago, my opponent was an active politician. Today my opponent was not dealing with politics until this point,” Zeman said. “That I see as the major difference.”

Zeman voted Friday under heavy security in Prague. Two weeks ago, a woman with the feminist group FEMEN approached the president naked to the waist and shouted “Zeman, Putin’s slut!”

He was one of the few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for the White House. He flew the European Union flag at Prague Castle, but proposed a referendum on the country’s membership in the bloc after Britain decided to leave.

Drahos, a political newcomer, clearly links the country’s future to its EU and NATO memberships.

Zeman won the first round with 38.6 percent of the vote, a commanding lead over Drahos’ 26.6 percent. Most of the other candidates have endorsed Drahos in the runoff.

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