Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round

Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round

Czech election: Milos Zeman leads in first round

Russia-friendly Czech president Milos Zeman won the first round of voting to retain his job on Saturday, but pro-western runner-up Jiri Drahos will be a formidable opponent in the second round vote in two weeks, almost complete results showed.

Zeman secured 38.56 percent of ballots from the election held on Friday and Saturday, while Drahos garnered 26.60, the Czech Statistical Office said.

Seven other candidates candiates got between 10 and 0.43 percent.

With almost all the votes counted, Zeman was credited with 38.57 percent of the vote in the election, held Friday and Saturday, with DrahoŇ° at 26.6 percent, well ahead of third-placed Pavel Fischer, a former ambassador to France, who garnered just over 10 percent.

The vote 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.

The incident may wind up helping the frail president by provoking sympathy for him, as Saturday's newspapers blared headlines like, "Attack on Zeman" and "A scandalous incident".

Zeman's rhetoric echoes populist-minded eastern European Union leaders - especially in Hungary and Poland - at odds with Brussels over mandatory refugee quotas and other rules they see as breaching national sovereignty.

He has also lashed out against the EU's efforts to integrate refugees from the Middle East and Africa, once saying that Muslim migrants will impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves' hands and stone adulterous women in Europe.

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.

The EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country of 10.6 million people has received only 12 migrants under the EU quota system.

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He has sought more trade and tighter political relations with China - he was also the only western leader to attend a military parade in Beijing in 2015. 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.

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".

"This looks hopeful", Mr Drahos told supporters and reporters at a Prague theatre after most results had come in.

Analyst Pehe said the vote highlighted a "polarised" society.

Zeman says he is ready "to meet (Drahos') request" to face each other.

The outcome may influence Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's chances of forming a cabinet. Former diplomat Pavel Fischer was third with 8.8 percent.

A former centre-left prime minister, Zeman has adopted a strongly anti-immigration stance, echoing the majority feeling in the country, and has won endorsements from the Communist Party as well as the main far-right SPD group.

Several days before the vote, doctors from the president's medical staff appeared before the press to affirm that Zeman was in good physical and psychological health.

"Drahos has made it very clear that a prosecuted man should not be prime minister", Pehe said.

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