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Czech Presidential Race Goes Down To The Wire As Voting Ends


Czechs Face Stark Choice In Presidential Runoff
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WATCH: Czechs Face Stark Choice In Presidential Runoff

PRAGUE -- Czechs should know the results of a closely contested presidential election within a few hours now that polls have closed following a two-day presidential election runoff that has pitted the Russia-friendly incumbent Milos Zeman against pro-European academic Jiri Drahos.

Opinion surveys ahead of the vote in the EU and NATO member state had pointed to an extremely tight race in the voting. A poll by the Kantar TNS and Median agencies showed Zeman scoring 45.5 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Drahos, with nearly 10 percent saying they were undecided.

Zeman, 73, has held the largely ceremonial post since 2013. He has courted controversy by voicing antimigrant views, denigrating Muslims, and warming up to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when many in Europe fear that Moscow is meddling in Western elections and affairs. He also seeks closer ties with China.

Drahos, 68, the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, is seen as a pro-European liberal. A political newcomer with no political-party affiliation, Drahos says he is worried about the rise of extremism and populism.

In their final TV debate on January 25, Drahos and Zeman both spoke in favor of deeper EU cooperation and against refugee quotas.

However, political analyst Michael Romancov told the AFP news agency that while "Zeman never questioned the Czech membership in the EU...he said he would welcome a referendum on exit and in practice he significantly deviated from both EU and NATO."

"It is clear that Jiri Drahos is unequivocally pro-EU and an euro-Atlantic candidate," the analyst added.

During the debate, Drahos called Zeman "a representative of the past political era...a symbol of division."

Drahos also said he saw Russia as a security threat because Moscow sees NATO as its adversary.

Zeman attacked Drahos's inexperience in politics, saying he "has no idea" about the "craft you have to learn for a long time."

Around 8.4 million Czechs were eligible to vote in the runoff, which was mandated after no candidate won a majority in the January 12-13 first round.

Zeman was first in that round with 38.6 percent of the vote, followed by Drahos with 26.6 percent.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
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