Second Round of Presidential Elections in the Czech Republic

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Pro-European Union academic Jiri Drahos is trying to unseat anti-immigration political veteran Milos Zeman, who has sought closer relations with Russian Federation and China, in a tight run-off in the Czech presidential election that started yesterday.

Running under the slogan "Decency is a strength", Drahos, a 68-year-old former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences and a professor of chemical engineering, could not be more different.

A pre-vote poll by the Kantar TNS and Median agencies showed the two candidates neck-and-neck, with the divisive 73-year-old ex-communist Zeman credited with 45.5 percent of the vote against 45 percent for the academic Drahos.

In the first direct presidential election in the Czech Republic in 2013, Zeman won the second round with gaining 54.8 percent of the vote.

"It's not only between Prague and other big cities on one side and the rest of the country, but also a polarization of world views, between people open to the outside world and modernization, and those rooted in the past", Pehe told AFP.

While Zeman represents poorer and rural voters with lower education, Drahos appeals to wealthier, well-educated urbanites.

The presidential run-off was held on Friday and Saturday and over 65 percent of the nearly 8.5 million registered voters have cast their ballots, according to preliminary data.

The government led by Babis resigned Wednesday after failing to win a confidence vote.

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Otherwise, the president has little direct executive power since the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister.

Zeman's stance is similar to other populist EU-skeptic politicians in Warsaw and Budapest.

The Czech president also has linked extremist attacks in Europe to the ongoing influx of newcomers, called the immigration wave an "organized invasion" and repeatedly said that Islam is incompatible with European culture.

While Mr Drahos said the Czech Republic "can handle" some 2,600 refugees, he also opposes the EU's quotas for migrants.

"It's an excellent result", Freedom and Direct Democracy chairman Tomio Okamura said of Zeman's re-election.

Some pro-Russian websites spread fake news about Drahos during the campaign, according to the Prague Security Studies Institute, a respected think-tank. But Zeman does not want migrants, and for me, that is important.

Zeman supports billionaire prime minister Andrej Babis's euroskeptic ANO movement, which won October's election, winning 78 seats in the 200-seat parliament, but has since been shunned by potential coalition partners.

Zeman is the country's third president - after Václav Havel and Václav Klaus - since Czechoslovakia was split in 1993.

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