Eastward-looking Zeman is favourite as Czechs vote for president

Eastward-looking Zeman is favourite as Czechs vote for president

Along with Zeman, former Science Academy chairman Jiri Drahos, businessman and lyricist Michal Horacek, former Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman and ex-PM Mirek Topolanek, medical doctor and university teacher Marek Hilser, former ambassador to France Pavel Fischer, Skoda Auto former board chairman Vladimir Kulhanek, Defence and Security Industry Association President Jiri Hynek and musician and producer Petr Hannig are running for president.

Although Zeman is in pole position as the country kicks off a final day of first-round voting Saturday, the outspoken head of state is unlikely to win an outright majority.

Friday's vote was hit by a protest.

Some bodyguards had to help a visibly rattled Zeman, who walks with a cane, leave the room. A half-naked woman, a possible Femen activist, attacked Zeman in a polling station to prevent him from voting on Friday afternoon. The man now in the job - Milos Zeman - known for his outspoken anti-immigration views, is leading opinion polls.

A recent poll for Czech Television showed Drahos winning a second round vote with 48.5 percent support against 44 percent for Zeman.

A win by any of Zeman's main rivals could mean that voices from the Czech leadership may shift closer to the European Union mainstream, in contrast to ex-communist neighbours such as Poland and Hungary, whose governments have clashed with Brussels.

He has also lashed out against the EU's efforts to integrate refugees from the Middle East and Africa, once saying that Muslim migrants will impose Sharia Law, chop off thieves' hands and stone adulterous women in Europe.

Presidential candidate Michal Horacek casts his vote as his we wife Michaela and daughter Julie look on during the presidential election's first round vote in Roudnice nad Labem, on Friday Jan. 12 2018. (On

Zeman has strong support mainly in the countryside of the nation of 10.6 million people, and he often snipes at Prague "elites" and the media.

The Czechs are electing a new president, and eight candidates are hoping to unseat the incumbent. "It's clear that not everyone can agree, but the current president doesn't unite people, he divides them", Drahos added.

"Polarisation of society has deepened in the past months", Saradin said.

"It is a clash between... the post-communist part of society represented by Zeman and the other part, say, modern, pro-Western, which simply doesn't want this president any more", he told AFP.

The outcome may influence Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's chances of finally forming a cabinet as his first attempt to rule in a minority administration is likely to be rejected by parliament next week.

Zeman was elected to the largely ceremonial post in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote, a victory that returned the former left-leaning prime minister to power.

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