Czechs elect president; anti-migrant incumbent favorite


Presidential elections kick off in the Czech Republic today, in a test for the polarising incumbent, Milos Zeman.

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

Before the second round of the previous presidential election in 2013, Babis told daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) he would vote for Zeman's rival Karel Schwarzenberg because Zeman continued with the capitalist mafia and corruption style of former president Vaclav Klaus.

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

As he voted in Prague on Friday, Zeman was targeted by a bare-breasted anti-Kremlin protester who called him "Putin's slut", referring to Russia's president.

Headlines like "Attack on Zeman" and "A scandalous incident" were splashed across the front pages of Saturday newspapers.

Femen, an global feminist group that originated in Ukraine, said on its website that the woman was Ukrainian citizen Angelina Diash. The woman, who Femen said was a Ukrainian citizen, was detained by security guards.

He has used harsh words to describe the 2015 migrant crisis, saying it was "an organized invasion" of Europe and that Muslims were "impossible to integrate".

Drahos could not be more different.

Drahos, who is seen as the biggest threat to Zeman in the election, is a liberal centrist who wants Prague to "play a more active role in the European Union".

"As you can see, my security detail works quite well because she did not get to me", said the Czech president. "It's clear that not everyone can agree, but the current president doesn't unite people, he divides them", Drahos added. The two candidates with the strongest support will advance to the second round.

"I like that he speaks to voters", said Irena Matuskova, a Prague nurse who planned to vote for Zeman. He has appointed billionaire Andrej Babis, with whom he shares dislike for the EU's refugee policies, as prime minister, even though the tycoon's single-party government doesn't have a majority in parliament.

Babis's populist ANO movement won last October's general elections with its anti-corruption and anti-euro campaign, but the Slovak-born tycoon facing police charges over European Union funding fraud failed to woo coalition partners.

Czech President Milos Zeman arrives to cast a vote during the country's direct presidential election at a polling station in Prague, the Czech Republic January 12, 2018.

Milos Zeman once said he wanted "death for all abstainers and vegetarians", he has declared war-literally-to journalists and on environmental groups he said he would treat them "in the medieval way: he would burn them, urinate on them and I would throw salt at them".

But the situation could change dramatically if Drahos wins.