Pro-Russian president Milos Zeman leads in Czech vote: Partial results

Pro-Russian president Milos Zeman leads in Czech vote: Partial results

His main opponent, Jiri Drahos, who is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has gained 26.02 percent, according to preliminary data.

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.

The favourite in the field of nine candidates vying for a spot in the election runoff later this month is the outspoken incumbent, President Milos Zeman, who at 73 has watched his country become more politically divided during his five-year tenure.

The woman, identified in a Femen statement as Angelina Dash, had the slogan, "Zeman, Putin's Slut" scrawled across her naked chest, a reference to Zeman's close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The second round of election is scheduled two weeks later on January 26-27.

Mr Zeman is popular in rural areas, where his forthright views on immigrants and political correctness strike a chord, our correspondent says.

While he has won support among many Czechs by criticizing intellectual elites, they say he's sown doubt over whether the country of 10.6 million people should remain in the world's largest trading bloc. 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. The encounter left Zeman visibly shaken and looking weak.

As Rob Cameron, a BBC correspondent in Prague, points out, these new elections will not only be a referendum on Zeman, but also on the direction the Czech Republic will follow.

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". Many voters may switch from their losing candidates to support the runner-up against Zeman.

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

Other candidates include songwriter Michal Horachek, former right-wing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, and former Skoda carmaker head Vratislav Kulhanek.

Babis's populist ANO movement won last October's general elections with its anti-corruption and anti-euro campaign, but the Slovak-born tycoon who is facing police charges over European Union funding fraud has failed to woo coalition partners.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) will support incumbent President Milos Zeman in the forthcoming direct presidential election, he told a press conference on Thursday, adding that this is his own opinion and not an official stance of the ANO movement.

Mr Zeman has promised to give Babis a second chance to form a government if the first attempt fails.

But if one of the rivals wins, this will represent a huge change in the politics of this country that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

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

While the president may influence efforts to break a government stalemate as the cabinet is likely to lose the first confidence vote next week, Czech financial assets have been largely immune to political uncertainty.

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