Zeman leads Czech presidential vote, partial results show

Zeman leads Czech presidential vote, partial results show

Incumbent east-looking Milos Zeman won the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election on Saturday but runner up Jiri Drahos may pose a strong challenge in the second round in two weeks, almost complete results showed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Czech President Milos Zeman at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 7, 2013.

In a 2015 Christmas message, Zeman described the ongoing influx of migrants in Europe as an "organized invasion".

"The beauty of our women will be lost", he told the crowd, "because they will be covered with burkas."

"Mind you", he added, "I can think of some women for whom that would be an improvement".

As Rob Cameron, a BBC correspondent in Prague, points out, these new elections will not only be a referendum on Zeman, but also on the direction the Czech Republic will follow.

While he was once considered to be in favor of the European Union (EU) - even flying the European flag at Prague Castle a month after his election - Zeman has since become one of the EU's most vocal critics.

Zeman is expected to win the first round of elections on Friday and Saturday.

His coterie of close advisers include the founder of a Czech subsidiary of Russian oil giant Lukoil.

"What I would be afraid of is infiltration by jihadists, and thus a higher number of terrorist attacks in European countries or cities", he said on Thursday night in his weekly interview show, Week with the President, on TV Barrandov.

It is not something that everyone in the country sees as beneficial. "I voted for professor Drahos because I want that someone who will not push us to the East and who will not be a disgrace", said lawyer Matej Gredl, 30, after he voted in Prague.

Opinion surveys show the divisive 73-year-old ex-communist, who is also staunchly anti-Muslim and pro-Chinese, leading the pack of nine candidates ahead of Jiri Drahos, 68-year-old pro-European former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

These are the last two points, says the BBC correspondent, those that most divide the nation.

If the talks stretch out beyond then, Mr Babis may have a harder time with some of Mr Zeman's opponents.

His "astute comments", however, have caused controversy and "shame". Zeman was shocked and was took out of the room by two security guards.

"Look at the inscription", Zeman said smiling about the toy gun he had received during a visit to the west of the country. It was an unprecedented appearance for a man who calls himself a leftist. Drahos called on all those "who want a change" to cast ballots in the runoff.

"I think President Zeman does not represent the country as he should", he told the BBC, "sometimes he behaves as if he were not our president, I'm ashamed". Suffering from type 2 diabetes and related nerve damage to his big toe, he is barely able to walk during public appearances, and leans heavily on a cane.

While he has won support among many Czechs by criticizing intellectual elites, they say he's sown doubt over whether the country of 10.6 million people should remain in the world's largest trading bloc.

If opinion polls are correct, voters are willing to re-elect him.