After these parliamentary elections, “it appeared that the Czech Republic could also be sliding to what we see in Hungary and Poland,” stated Jiri Pehe, who was a political adviser to President Vaclav Havel and is now the director of New York College in Prague. He was referring to the proper-wing governments in these two nations, which now each have a strained relationship with the European Union over strikes that critics in Brussels see as undemocratic.
“This election is in some methods extra vital, as a result of it’s going to present what a part of society is wanting backward as an alternative of ahead,” Mr. Pehe stated.
Mr. Zeman’s opponent within the presidential vote, Jiri Drahos, sixty eight, a chemical engineer by coaching and the previous chairman of the Czech Academy of Sciences, has introduced himself as a defender of democratic values and civility.
“I’ll attempt for us to reside in a rustic the place respect and decency can as soon as once more be taken without any consideration,” Mr. Drahos has stated.
He secured his spot within the runoff by ending second to Mr. Zeman in the first round of voting this weekend. Mr. Zeman acquired 38.6 % of the vote, in contrast with 26.6 for Mr. Drahos.
A number of of the opposite first-spherical candidates instantly endorsed Mr. Drahos, together with those that positioned third, fourth and fifth and collectively gained 28.2 % of the vote.
Political analysts agree that it’ll in all probability be a decent race, and one that would flip ugly.
The election, to happen on Jan. 26 and 27, is just the second time within the nation’s historical past that the individuals will vote immediately for president.
Mr. Zeman won the presidency in 2013 by interesting to voters looking forward to change after the monetary disaster left many individuals within the nation reeling, and his leftist strategy stood in distinction to the fitting-wing ideologies of different populists within the area.
A former prime minister, Mr. Zeman introduced himself on the time as a fighter who might battle a system rife with corruption and stricken by patronage.
However quickly he would take up the mantle of a fighter in a unique battle: the difficulty of Muslim migration into Europe.
20 years in the past, the Czech Republic welcomed individuals looking for refuge from the wars within the Balkans, taking in hundreds of refugees from Bosnia, together with Muslims.
However three years in the past, because the variety of migrants fleeing Africa and the Center East accelerated, Mr. Zeman turned one probably the most outspoken critics of the European Union’s migration insurance policies.
Underneath a quota system, the Czech Republic was required to permit 2,691 migrants into the nation. It allowed 12, after which declined to take any extra. It’s at present preventing in European courts over the difficulty.
Mr. Zeman’s place stays common and, for probably the most half, the political debate over migration is over within the Czech Republic.
Mr. Drahos has emphasised that he’s a “clear no” on the query of accepting the European Union quotas.
However this political consensus has not stopped Mr. Zeman from utilizing more and more incendiary language to make his level on immigration. “I’m profoundly satisfied that we face an organized invasion and never a spontaneous motion of refugees,” he stated in 2015.
Whereas visiting a small border city, he stated he would usher in firefighters with water canons to repel individuals if want be.
It’s this type of raw language, which frequently appears calculated to offend the mental class in Prague, that some voters admire as an genuine voice of unusual individuals.
When visiting winemakers, Mr. Zeman, who boasts about his heavy consuming, declared “dying to abstainers and vegetarians,” with a wink. On a go to to China, he met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Noting the massive variety of journalists on the occasion, he instructed, with a smile, that some must be “liquidated.”
However even Mr. Zeman’s critics say he’s sensible, properly learn and probably the most efficient public audio system within the nation. And the extra his feedback outrage the mental class, the extra his core supporters appear drawn to him.
For a lot of, nevertheless, his language isn’t just offensive, however can also be opening the door to fringe teams that till lately had dwelled on the margins of Czech political life, together with the SPD, a neo-fascist group that has referred to as for banning Islam.
Mr. Babis has flirted with bringing them right into a coalition authorities, and Mr. Zeman spoke at a SPD get together convention.
“That places the Czech president on the political map someplace the place no different politician within the democratic a part of Europe is,” Mr. Pehe stated. “Even Orban in Hungary and Kaczynski in Poland haven’t aligned themselves with these sorts of political forces.”
The connection between Mr. Zeman and Mr. Babis — all the time one in every of comfort — appeared to be shifting after the primary spherical of voting. Mr. Babis endorsed Mr. Zeman, however in what appeared like a transparent try and hedge his bets, he provided a robust critique of his political patron.
“If he needs to achieve the second spherical, he ought to brazenly declare that he doesn’t need to stir our nation towards the East, that he doesn’t need to stir our nation towards Russia or China,” Mr. Babis stated on Saturday.
If Mr. Zeman wins, it’s more likely to have an effect on how the Czech Republic positions itself in unsure occasions for the European Union.
Mr. Zeman doesn’t draw back from the truth that he’s shut with Mr. Putin and actively courting Chinese language funding. Whereas he helps staying within the European Union, he has been one of many fixed thorns in its aspect.
“He nonetheless flies the E.U. flag over the citadel,” stated Petr Bouska, an activist preventing political polarization within the Czech Republic. “However it might quickly be joined by a Russian or Chinese language flag.”
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