Czech President Milos Zeman has won the first round of voting in the Czech Republic’s presidential election Saturday, but will have to face second-place finisher Jiri Drahos in a runoff election later this month after failing to win a majority of votes.
Zeman, 73, who has been president of the central European country since 2013, emerged with 38.6 percent of the vote. He has stoked controversy in parts of Europe with support for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Zeman was also an early supporter of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election.
Zeman’s challenger for the second round, chemistry professor Jiri Drahos, finished second with 26.6 percent with all votes counted, according to the Czech Statistical Office. Former diplomat Pavel Fischer came in third with 10.2 percent, while the six remaining candidates all finished with less than 10 percent each.
The Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but the president has the power to appoint the country’s prime minister after general elections and has an influential voice in politics.
Zeman has called for an end to European Union sanctions against Russia and has proposed holding a Czech referendum on leaving the EU (though he said he would vote to remain). “While Zeman calls himself a ‘eurofederalist,’ he’s scorned the EU for its determination to accept and integrate Muslim refugees, who, he said, will eventually impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves’ hands and stone adulterous women,” Bloomberg Politics writes. According to The Economist, in October, Zeman held a fake AK-47 inscribed with the words “For journalists.”
In addition to support for Russia, Zeman wants to improve Czech relations with China.
“Zeman has won backing from poorer and rural voters in the country of 10.6 million by opposing what he calls urban elites detached from the lives of ordinary people,” Bloomberg writes.
The 68-year-old Drahos is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences and is seen as pro-European. He supports continuing Czech membership in NATO and the EU. Four other presidential candidates have endorsed Drahos in the runoff election scheduled for Jan. 26 and 27, according to The Guardian.