Pro-Russian Czech president faces challenge from newcomer in runoff election

Czech President and presidential candidate Milos Zeman attends a press conference after the first round of presidential voting in Prague on Saturday Jan. 13 2018. Milos Zeman will face a runoff election in two weeks against former head of the country's

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

If a second round is confirmed, it is expected to be held on 26-27 January.

Zeman was targeted by a bare-breasted anti-Kremlin protester who called him "Putin's slut" as he voted in Prague yesterday, a move experts said might boost his chances judging by an outpouring of sympathy for him on social media.

While most Czechs share his views on immigration, Mr Zeman's inclination towards far-right groups and his warm relations with Russian Federation and China have split public opinion, with a sizeable chunk of the electorate favouring pro-western candidates, including 68-year-old academic Mr Drahos.

Incumbent Milos Zeman has won the first round of the Czech presidential election but faces a run-off after failing to gain the outright majority needed to win outright. Polls close at 2 p.m. on January 13, and the first results are due later the same day.

A recent poll for Czech Television showed the divisive Zeman could flounder in round two with Drahos poised to score 48.5 percent of votes predicted against 44 percent for the incumbent.

He has sought more trade and tighter political relations with China - he was also the only western leader to attend a military parade in Beijing in 2015.

With votes from 98.9 per cent of districts counted, Mr Zeman led the race with 38.6 per cent of votes, while Mr Drahos had won 26.6 percent. Zeman was shocked and was took out of the room by two security guards.

His more liberal rival Jiří Drahoš is staunchly pro-European and has called for Prague to "play a more active role in the EU".

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"This looks hopeful", Drahos told supporters and reporters at a Prague theatre after most results had come in.

"The polarisation of society has deepened in the past months", Saradin said. In addition to Zeman - a heavy smoker and proud drinker - is Czech singer Petr Hannig and former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who in 2009 was famously photographed naked with topless women at one of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's villas.

"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.

Under the Czech constitution, the president has the power to pick the prime minister, and to appoint members of the Central Bank board.

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.

Mr Zeman's victory is profoundly important to the recently installed prime minister, Andrej Babis, who heads up a minority government heavily dependent on the current president's support for its survival.

While Zeman's backing for Babis may prolong political uncertainty as the cabinet is expected to lose a confidence vote next week, Czech financial assets have been largely immune.

But things could change dramatically if Drahos wins. The polling stations will close at 22:00 on Friday night and the election will continue from 8:00 till 14:00 on Saturday.

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