Miloš Zeman has been elected president of the Czech Republic. The former Social Democrat prime minister received 54.8 percent of the vote in the second round of the direct presidential elections on Saturday while his rival for the post, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, obtained 45.2 percent. Miloš Zeman won in all Czech regions with the exception of Prague. The turnout in the runoff reached over 59 percent, less than in the first round two weeks ago. Miloš Zeman will be inaugurated on March 8, the day after Václav Klaus’s second term expires.
Speaking at an improvised news conference at his headquarters in Prague, president-elect Miloš Zeman said his victory was “convincing”, and promised to be the voice of all Czechs, not just those who backed him in the election. After thanking his campaign team, Mr Zeman said he would outline a detailed programme of his presidency in an address to the Czech Parliament. The newly elected president reiterated that he would visit Slovakia on his first trip abroad, and asked his 18-year-old daughter Kateřina to informally play the role of the “first miss” as his wife wished to stay out of the public arena.
With nearly all votes counted, Karel Schwarzenberg conceded defeat in the second round of voting for the Czech president, and congratulated rival Miloš Zeman on winning the popular vote. Mr Schwarzenberg said, however, that the election was decided by lies and dirty tricks in the campaign. He also announced he would continue to serve as foreign minister in the current centre-right government, would run for re-election as the head of the TOP 09 party.
The outgoing Czech president, Václav Klaus, has welcomed the election of Miloš Zeman as his successor. In a reference to the motto of the late president Václav Havel, Mr Klaus told Czech Radio that in Mr Zeman’s election, “truth and love have finally prevailed over lies and hatred”. Mr Klaus, who is on a working visit to Chile, said he was glad that Czechs did not get confused by an incredible media campaign ahead of the vote, adding that result of the election was a huge satisfaction for all those who “mean well” for the country.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Saturday congratulated Miloš Zeman on his victory in the first direct Czech presidential election. Since the fall of communism, Mr Nečas said, Czech politics had generated three significant figures – Václav Havel, Václav Klaus and Miloš Zeman – and that it was “natural” that Mr Zeman had been elected to succeed the former two. The prime minister also expressed hope that the atmosphere in the society would calm down in the coming days after the divisive campaigning ahead of the presidential vote.
Most Czech expats and tourists backed Karel Schwarzenberg in the second round of the direct presidential election. Mr Schwarzenberg received nearly 85 percent of the expat vote while Miloš Zeman got just over 15 percent. Polling stations at Czech embassies and consulates reported a higher turnout compared to the election’s first round held two weeks ago.
Polling stations across the country opened at 2 PM on Friday for Czechs to vote in the second round of the historical first direct presidential election. Voters will be choosing between former Social Democrat prime minister Miloš Zeman and the current foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg. Polls will close at 10 PM on Friday and will open again between 8 AM and 2 PM on Saturday; results of the vote are expected to come in on Saturday afternoon. Czech citizens abroad began voting in the presidential runoff at Czech embassies and consulates first in the Americas, followed by Australia and East Asia. Polls in European and African countries will be open during the same hours as in the Czech Republic.
The team of presidential candidate Miloš Zeman has approached the Interior Ministry over possible irregularities in the second round of the direct presidential election, the news agency ČTK reported. A member of the team said they were concerned that some voters could be copying their absentee ballots to be able to vote in different districts. The Interior Ministry therefore informed all election committees to pay extra attention to verifying voters’ identity, and also informed the police of the issue, a spokesman for the ministry said. More than 700,000 people have asked for absentee ballots for the second round of the presidential election, Czech TV reported.
The other presidential candidate, Karel Schwarzenberg, said he would file a lawsuit over an anonymous advertisement which came out in the most widely-read Czech daily Blesk on Friday, calling on readers not to vote for Mr Schwarzenberg. The advertisement included false statements about Mr Schwarzenberg’s views. Legislation on direct presidential elections prohibits anonymous advertising. Mr Zeman’s campaign has denied being behind the anonymous advertisement; however, some lawyers believe this could lead to the cancellation of the result of the vote.
Karel Schwarzenberg cast an invalid ballot in the election’s second round. Mr Schwarzenberg, who voted near his Central Bohemian home shortly after the polls opened at 2 PM, failed to insert his ballot in the official envelope before putting it into the ballot box, a moment captured by dozens of photo journalists. His vote will therefore be counted as invalid. Mr Schwarzenberg later said he had been disturbed by the presence of the media at the polling station.