Scientist challenging pro-Russian incumbent in Czech presidential run-off

Scientist challenging pro-Russian incumbent in Czech presidential run-off
Jiri Drahos

Voters in the Czech Republic are casting ballots in the second round of a presidential election, a run-off between the Russia-friendly incumbent and the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

President Milos Zeman and Jiri Drahos, a scientist in chemistry, advanced to the second round after none of the nine candidates in the first round two weeks ago received a majority of votes.

Mr Zeman, 73, is favoured to win another five-year term, but polls suggest the run-off, which ends on Saturday afternoon, could be tight.

The former left-leaning prime minister became president in 2013 after defeating one-time 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.

Mr Drahos, 68, a political newcomer, is seen as more Western-oriented.

Mr Zeman voted 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 of the bloc after the UK voted to leave.

Mr Drahos clearly links the country’s future to its EU and Nato memberships.

Mr Zeman won the first round with 38.6% of the vote, a commanding lead over Mr Drahos’s 26.6%, but most of the other candidates have endorsed Mr Drahos in the run-off.

- PA

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