July 29, 2020 | News | No Comments
Pro-Russian incumbent Milos Zeman was re-elected Czech president on Saturday, narrowly outpacing his pro-European liberal rival Jiri Drahos in a tight run-off that underscored deep divisions in the European Union.
The president edged to a narrow victory over Mr Drahos, his only rival, in a run-off poll following a first round of voting a fortnight earlier, with 51.5 per cent.
His victory came as blow to Czechs hoping their country would take a more pro-Europe line. The urbane Mr Drahos, a chemistry professor five years younger than 73-year-old president, had called for closer ties with the EU.
Conceding defeat Mr Drahos said he “had not won but also had not lost” and vowed to remain in public life.
A Zeman second term could well rub grit into his country’s relations with the EU. Although the powers of the Czech president are limited Mr Zeman has drawn attention to himself and his country by being a vocal Eurosceptic with strong pro-Russia views.
He has also been a steadfast opponent of Muslim immigration to Europe and the Czech Republic.
His victory will also strengthen the hand of Poland and Hungary. The two Central European countries, both with populist and nationalistic governments, have been strongly opposed to closer EU integration and Brussels’ plan to make states accept refugee quotas.
They also face the threat of EU sanctions owing to policies considered by Brussels as a threat to democracy so will welcome the continued presence of an ally.
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Mr Zeman’s record of outspoken opposition to immigration could well have helped tip the balance in his favour in the election despite his opponent also rejecting the EU quota plan.
A reputation for direct, blunt and sometimes course speaking may also have worked in the president’s favour despite many Czechs considering his language an affront to his office.
Andrej Babis, the Czech prime minister, is bound to welcome a Zeman victory. Since winning parliamentary elections in October, Mr Babis has struggled to form a government, with many opposition parties refusing to work with him owing to allegations of fraud against him.
But he has had the backing of the president so another term for Mr Zeman will give him more time to cobble together a coalition.