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Czech presidential vote sets up Zeman-Drahos second round clash

From Reuters - January 13, 2018

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Incumbent east-looking Milos Zeman won the first round of the Czech Republics presidential election on Saturday but runner up Jiri Drahos may pose a strong challenge in the second round in two weeks, nearly complete results showed.

Zemans inclination towards far-right groups and his warm relations with Russia and China have split public opinion, with a sizeable chunk of the electorate favoring pro-western candidates, including 68-year-old academic Drahos.

Czech presidents have limited executive powers but Zeman and his predecessors have had a strong influence on public debate. They are also pivotal in forming governments -- which the European Union and NATO member country is now trying to do.

With votes from 97.6 percent of districts counted, Zeman led the race with 39.0 percent of votes, while Drahos had won 26.4 percent.

That means a run-off needs to be held. Several candidates running on platforms similar to Drahos scored high single-digit results and some of their voters may throw their support behind Drahos rather than Zeman in the Jan. 26-27 run-off.

This looks hopeful, Drahos told supporters and reporters at a Prague theater after most results had come in. By far the toughest game now awaits against Milos Zeman and his advisers...Come to vote, come to vote, come to vote.

The vote is seen as a referendum on the 73-year-old Zeman, in office since 2013, who has criticized migration from Muslim countries and Germanys decision to accept many migrants.

A win by the soft-spoken, gray-haired chemical engineer Drahos could mean voices from the Czech leadership may shift closer to the EU mainstream.

I voted for professor Drahos because I want that someone who will not push us to the East and who will not be a disgrace, said lawyer Matej Gredl, 30, after he voted in Prague.

POLICY SHIFT

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