Czechs vote for president; anti-migrant incumbent is favored

Femen protestor Angelina Diash

Incumbent Milos Zeman won the first round of the Czech Republic's presidential election on Saturday with 39.80 percent of the vote, results from 90.3 percent of voting districts showed.

Zeman has been accused of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has called Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula an 'accomplished fact.' He has also been very critical in the EU's enablement of massive Islamic immigration.

While Mr Zeman's backing for Mr Babis may prolong political uncertainty as the Cabinet is expected to lose a confidence vote next week, Czech financial assets have been largely immune.

Mr Babis stressed that any government he leads would hold a foreign policy course based on the country's European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership.

Zeman, a former prime minister, was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote. In 2015, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said that "repeated Islamophobic" statements by Zeman were contributing to "an increasingly xenophobic public discourse" in the Czech Republic. If no one wins outright in the first round of elections, by receiving 50 percent or more of the vote, the two strongest candidates will face each other in a runoff on January 26-27. Results were expected to trickle in throughout the afternoon, with final count expected by Saturday evening.

Zeman is a supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and similarly boosts his appeal with sniping at the press and what he calls intellectual elites.

Marine Le Pen gestures after a press conference focused on the theme 'France's international policy in a multipolar world'
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"If Zeman stays, it will bode well for the companies that he promotes, which have business interests in China and Russian Federation", said Pavel Saradin, a political scientist at Palacky University.

Zeman's main contender in the upcoming elections, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos, is equally outspoken.

Zeman's lead does not mean an easy win in the second round.

Some right-wing opposition politicians said Zeman and Babis made a pact - Zeman helping Babis become prime minister and Babis helping Zeman defend the presidential post in exchange. Babis said Thursday he'd vote for Zeman in the election. He has criticised migration from Muslim-majority countries as well as Germany's decision to accept many migrants.

Many voters remainied undecided until the last minute, with Prague archivist Marcela Riegerova saying she "ended up tossing a coin to decide between two candidates, and Drahos came out the victor". "Data also show a deepening rift between cities and the countryside".

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