West clash as Czechs vote for new president

Presidential elections tests the power Euro scepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the Czech Republic

Presidential elections tests the power Euro scepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the Czech Republic

"Mr. Drahos said that he would like to meet me face to face". If not, the top two finishers in the nine-candidate contest will face each other in a runoff in two weeks.

With ballots from nearly all polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office on Saturday, Zeman had a big lead with 40 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26 percent.

"It is clear that the other candidates who have dropped out of the race, for example, Pavel Fischer, Marek Hilser and Michal Horacek, will vote Jiri Drahos in round two", Pehe said. "I want to bring a completely different style of presidency, bring people together, not label them, a clear embedding of the Czech Republic in Europe, with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union as allies, not China", Drahos, 68, said in an interview at www.dvtv.cz news website earlier in January.

The turnout was 61.92% The Czech republic has 8.366 million registered voters. He called on all those "who want a change" to cast ballots.

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"The final is still ahead of us, and that's what matters", Drahos said.

The vote, likely to end in a run-off in two weeks, is seen as a referendum on 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has harshly criticized migration from Muslim countries and is keen to boost ties with Russian Federation and China. Challenger Drahos, 68, looks set to pick up many votes from those who had supported now-eliminated candidates.

Otherwise, the president has little executive power since the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister.

His reelection would reflect a eurosceptic stance by most Czechs and the public's rejection of accepting migrants and refugees.

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In office, he has become known for strong anti-migrant rhetoric that won him support from the populist far-right.

The Czech government is led by the prime minister, but unlike other countries where the president has a largely ceremonial role, the Czech president is involved in numerous country's political decisions.

"If Drahos wins, the image of the president will be different than in the Zeman era because Drahos is an intellectual without a radical vision or appeals", said Lubomir Kopecek, a political analyst at Masaryk University in the city of Brno.

No matter who wins, the next president will find himself battling a political crisis with roots in last year's general election.

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