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Czechia - 2018 Presidential Election

The Czech government is led by the prime minister, but unlike other countries where the president has a largely ceremonial role, the Czech president is involved in many of the country's political decisions. President Milos Zeman had a large lead after the first round of voting in the Czech presidential election. Zeman had 39 percent, with more than 97 percent of the vote counted. His nearest rival was Jiri Drahos, a chemist and the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, with 26.4 percent the second round of voting was held January 26-27.

President Milos Zeman will serve a second five-year term after winning a razor-thin victory against his liberal challenger in a fiercely contested run-off. Zeman narrowly outpaced his pro-European liberal rival, Jiri Drahos, in a tight run-off that saw populist ex-communist Zeman take 51.4 percent of the vote against 48.6 percent for Drahos, Czech Television reported, quoting official results. Drahos conceded defeat before all ballots were counted.

Zeman's staunchly pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim stance has sown deep divisions in the Czech Republic. A former leftist prime minister, the 73-year-old Zeman represents poorer and rural voters with a lower level of education while academic and political novice Drahos, 68, appeals to wealthier, well-educated urbanites.

On 12-13 January 2018 Czechs went to the polls to elect the countrys next head of state. The incumbent president, Milo Zeman was running for a second term in office, challenged by a host of candidates including politicians, business leaders, and activists. Czech law stipulates that in order to qualify for the ballot, candidates must gather 50,000 signatures from citizens, or win support from twenty deputies or ten senators. The candidates must file their applications and hand over the respective signatures in support of their candidacy to the Interior Ministry 66 days before the election in order to give the ministry time to verify a sample of the signatures.

Over one third of Czech nationals will potentially vote for incumbent President Milos Zeman at the 2018 presidential election, a poll by the Median research agency for Czech Radio showed 28 May 2017. "More than 35 percent of the respondents are ready to give their votes at the upcoming presidential election to current head of the republic Milos Zeman. However, the number of his supporters after May's government crisis decreased over the last month by 2 percent, mainly among the elderly people," Lea Michalova, Median's representative, commented on the results of the survey.

The number of the Czech citizens supporting another presidential candidate Jiri Drahos, the former president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, grew from 17 percent to 24 percent in May. According to the poll's results, the number of people who would potentially vote for Michal Horacek, the Czech entrepreneur and writer, remained at 20 percent.

In October 2017 Zeman called on the European Union to engage in "people-to-people communications" in various spheres with Russia rather than maintain anti-Moscow posture. Zeman said that the EU sanctions policy against Russia would only bring about negative consequences for both parties. "I do not discuss the justification of the sanctions, I discuss the efficiency of the sanctions. Just today, the German daily Welt published the article which says that the European Union loses by sanctions, and there is practically no damage for Russia. I should say, it is a lose-lose strategy," Zeman said.

President Milo Zeman, who was fighting for re-election as an independent candidate, announced that he had collected 113, 000 signatures in his support, telling fans that he was fit and ready to challenge his rivals for the top post. His age and ailing health appear to be his main drawbacks. According to the 72-year-old president, he had a thorough medical check-up before making his decision to run for office and was found fully fit, except for a problem with his leg.

His most serious rivals for the post are the former head of the Czech academy of Sciences Jir Draho, who collected 110,000 signatures, Michal Horcek, with 86,000 signatures and the only seasoned politician in the running Mirek Topolnek, who unexpectedly threw his hat in the ring, announcing that he had the support of 10 senators, not only from his Civic Democratic Party.

The former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences Jir Draho, the presidents chief rival for the top post in the January presidential elections, said Zemans speech had shown all too clearly what kind of administration the incumbent president favored not a strong and stable government, but a minority government supported by extremists.

Political parties, who had the power to sway public opinion, were cautious in their stand as to who they would support and none of the parliamentary parties fielded a candidate of their own. The incumbent president Milo Zeman was likely to receive support from left-wing voters and ANO sympathizers because of the close working relationship between him and ANO leader Andrej Babi.

On the other hand, right-wing voters would likely chose between the former politian Mirek Topolnek, academic Jir Draho and entrepreneur Michal Horcek. Each of them represent what the Czech media describe as an anti-Zeman offensive. Political commentators have expressed the view though that three such candidates could split the opposition vote and thereby increase Zemans chances of re-election.

In his Christmas message to the nation, President Milo Zeman highlighted the countrys economic successes, telling Czechs they had much to be proud of. As regards the countrys political future, Milo Zeman ruled out early elections, telling politicians they would have to play the cards they had been dealt in the elections. The head of state confirmed his continuing support for ANO leader Andrej Babi, who had been unable to find backing for his minority government in the lower house ahead of a confidence vote on January 10th. President Zeman criticized the other parliamentary parties for lack of initiative in negotiations which would have opened the door to a compromise solution.

After months of negotiations and numerous rejections, by 15 June 2018 prime minister designate Andrej Babi appeared to have found allies willing to join him in power. The emerging minority government of his ANO party and the Social Democrats would have 93 seats in the 200-strong lower house, meaning that it would have to rely on support from the Communist Party, which promised to tolerate it in return for numerous concessions. For the Social Democrats, who did poorly in the October 2017 general elections, this was a chance to participate in government, and they have pushed their advantage to the limit gaining five ministerial portfolios in the new cabinet.

This coalition government will be as stable as is the support of the Communist Party and President Zeman, because in actual fact this was not a government of two parties, but four parties that is ANO, the Social Democrats, the Communists who will tolerate it, and then, of course, President Zeman who had a great deal of influence over the Communist Party and who had been able to use his influence over Andrej Babi, as acting prime minister, to put his own people in the government. It looked like there would be at least three or four ministers who will actually be Zemans appointees.

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