Czech presidential election starts

Cheryl Sanders
January 13, 2018

Opinion polls show Mr Zeman will probably garner the most votes in the first round but too few to avoid a Jan 26-27 runoff with one of his eight challengers. The two candidates with the strongest support will advance to the second round.

Along with Zeman, former Science Academy chairman Jiri Drahos, businessman and lyricist Michal Horacek, former Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman and ex-PM Mirek Topolanek, medical doctor and university teacher Marek Hilser, former ambassador to France Pavel Fischer, Skoda Auto former board chairman Vladimir Kulhanek, Defence and Security Industry Association President Jiri Hynek and musician and producer Petr Hannig are running for president.

Around two fifths of voters are estimated to have cast their ballots during the first day of presidential election on Friday.

The vote, likely to end in a run-off in two weeks' time, is seen as a referendum on the 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has criticised migration from Muslim countries and Germany's decision to accept many migrants in Europe.

"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. "Even though he's been speaker of Parliament, prime minister, and then president, many people consider him the defender of their rights against "those on top". They also appoint central bankers and judges and are pivotal in forming governments - a process the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member country is now going through.

Zeman has the backing of embattled billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who said the incumbent "fights for our national interests" but called on him to "unite, not divide" Czechs.

The outcome may influence Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's chances of finally forming a cabinet as his first attempt to rule in a minority administration is likely to be rejected by parliament next week. Among other powers, the president has the right to name central bank board members and is the commander-in-chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member's military.

The Czech presidency is largely ceremonial but has an important role in picking who should form a government. The koruna, which was the best performer among the world's major currencies in 2017, has gained a further 0.2 percent to the euro since start of this year. Since then, he's been one of most prominent voices in Europe to call for abolition of sanctions against Russian Federation over the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. He has also linked Islam to terrorist attacks in Europe.

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