Milos Zeman kisses his daughter Katerina after winning the
country's direct presidential election to replace the
outgoing Vaclav Klaus, in Prague. REUTERS/David W Cerny
Leftist former prime minister Milos Zeman has won the
Czech Republic's first direct presidential election, beating a
conservative opponent he had accused of favouring foreign
interests in a bitter campaign.
Zeman, a 68-year-old who favours more integration within the
European Union, won by 54.8 to 45.2 percent over Foreign
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, results from 99.9 percent of
voting districts showed.
Economic forecaster Zeman, a Communist Party member before
the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, will steer
Czechs closer to Europe's mainstream.
The anti-EU rhetoric of outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, who
succeeded late playwright Vaclav Havel, has pushed the
country towards the margins of the 27-member bloc.
Czech presidents do not wield much day-to-day power but
represent the country abroad and appoint prime ministers,
central bankers and judges.
Zeman said he wants to overcome divisions provoked by the
election in the central European country of 10.5 million
people. The final stage of the campaign was marked by doubts
cast on the national loyalties of Schwarzenberg, a prince
from a centuries-old aristocratic family who lived much of
his life in Austria.
Zeman promised to tackle graft, an issue which has dominated
political debate for years.
"I want to be president of the bottom 10 million. These
include voters of Milos Zeman as well as Karel Schwarzenberg.
I do not want to be president of mafias that act as parasites
on this society," Zeman said.
Zeman served as Social Democrat prime minister in 1998-2002
under a power-sharing deal with Klaus's right-wing party that
critics saw as a breeding ground for corruption.
Schwarzenberg conceded defeat and congratulated Zeman, but
relations between the centre-right cabinet and new president
may be strained.
Zeman, who has a folksy manner and a well-advertised appetite
for sausages and alcohol, appeals to poorer and rural voters,
unlike the government, which has raised taxes, cut social
benefits and suffered several corruption scandals.
During his premiership, Zeman was credited with privatising
the main banks and attracting foreign investment. Opponents
criticise his friendship with former communist officials and
businessmen with links to Russia.
Previously, Czech presidents were elected by parliamentary
votes that involved a lot of back-room dealing, which led to
popular demand for a constitutional change approved last
GHOSTS OF THE PAST
The finale of the campaign was marked by appeals to
nationalism, unusual for the Czech Republic, whose biggest
trading partner is Germany.
Zeman accused Schwarzenberg of backing the cause of some
three million ethnic Germans, known as Sudeten Germans, who
were expelled from then-Czechoslovakia after World War Two.
Schwarzenberg has said that in today's world, the expulsion
could be seen as a war crime, but denied allegations he would
open the door for demands to return confiscated property.
Klaus backed Zeman in the vote, saying he wanted a president
who had lived in the country all his life, unlike
Schwarzenberg, whose family has large land holdings in
Austria where he lived in exile during the 1948-1989
Schwarzenberg said the election was won by lies.
"The difference of 10 percentage points was the result of
this kind of campaign," he said. "It is impossible to defend
against certain type of bad-mouthing."