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Russia-Friendly Zeman Reelected As Czech President In Tight Race


Czech President Milos Zeman has just won another five-year term. (file photo)

Russia-friendly incumbent Milos Zeman has been reelected president of the Czech Republic for a second five-year term.

Official results from 96.87 percent percent of voting districts showed Zeman led the election runoff with 51.95 percent of the vote to 48.04 percent for his opponent, pro-European academic Jiri Drahos, who has already conceded defeat.

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. He also seeks closer ties with China.

"I would like to congratulate election winner Milos Zeman," Drahos told a crowd of supporters as he publicly acknowledged the result. However, he also said the "energy" that his campaign generated would not disappear. "I will not leave public life," he said. "I will remain."

Pro-European liberal Drahos, 68, is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences. A political newcomer with no political party affiliation, Drahos has said he is worried about the rise of extremism and populism.

In their final TV debate on January 25, Drahos and Zeman both spoke in favor of deeper EU cooperation and against refugee quotas.

However, political analyst Michael Romancov told the AFP news agency that while "Zeman never questioned Czech membership in the EU...he said he would welcome a referendum on exit and in practice he significantly deviated from both EU and NATO."

"It is clear that Jiri Drahos is unequivocally pro-EU and an euro-Atlantic candidate," the analyst added.

During the debate, Drahos called Zeman "a representative of the past political era...a symbol of division."

Drahos also said he saw Russia as a security threat because Moscow sees NATO as its adversary.

Zeman attacked Drahos' inexperience in politics, saying he had "no idea" about the "craft you have to learn for a long time."

Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to vote in the runoff, which was mandated after no candidate won a majority in the January 12-13 first round.

Zeman was first with 38.6 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26.6 percent.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, iDnes.cz, and AP

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