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Czechs Vote For President, With Divisive Incumbent Favored

Czech Leader Zeman Seeks Reelection After Polarizing First Term
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The Czech Republic is holding a presidential election that pits incumbent President Milos Zeman, who opposes immigration and is seen as pro-Russia, against eight other candidates.

Zeman is favored to win the most votes in the January 12-13 first round.

If no candidate wins a majority in the first round, the top two finishers will face each other in a runoff on January 26-27.

Zeman, 73, has held the largely ceremonial post since 2013.

He has courted controversy by voicing antimigrant views, denigrating Muslims, and warming up to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when many in Europe fear that Moscow is meddling in Western elections and affairs.

Zeman once called the 2015 migrant crisis "an organized invasion" of Europe and has said that Muslims were "impossible to integrate."

Opinion polls show that Zeman’s most serious challenger is Jiri Drahos, a chemistry professor and two-time president of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Other candidates include songwriter Michal Horacek, former right-wing premier Mirek Topolanek, and Vratislav Kulhanek, former head of Czech carmaker Skoda Auto.

On the eve of the election, Zeman stayed away from a final debate on national television, citing a prior arrangement to take part in a talk show on another channel.

Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to cast ballots. The first indications of the result are expected late on January 13.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa