Leftist Zeman wins Czech presidency, trumps aristocrat

Czechs chose outspoken veteran leftist Milos Zeman, an ex-premier, as their new president in the Saturday runoff of the EU republic’s first direct election, defeating Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, an aristocrat whose sex pistols-inspired social media campaign fell flat.

The burly, silver-haired Zeman garnered 54.82-per cent support with virtually all votes counted, against 45.17 per cent for Schwarzenberg, having also won the January 11-12 first round in a field of nine rivals.

“Milos Zeman has won, I acknowledge this, and I hope he will manage to be the president of all Czech people,” Schwarzenberg said as the final results rolled in on Saturday.

His victory ends a decade under strident eurosceptic outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, 71, with Zeman, 68, having a decidedly Europe-friendly approach.

In 1998-2002, Zeman’s leftist government helped negotiate his country’s 2004 EU accession and Zeman is now a self-described “euro-federalist.”

“I promise that as a president elected in a direct vote by citizens, I will do my best to be the voice of all citizens,” Zeman said in his victory speech at a Prague hotel, as overjoyed supporters chanted “Long live Zeman”.

“We can safely assume Milos Zeman will take a more favourable stance towards the EU,” Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told AFP.

“Of course he is no hardline euro-optimist, but he will take a much more rational stance than Vaclav Klaus, he’s a pro-European president,” he added.

The campaign revolved around issues related to the EU, corruption, an economy in recession and painful austerity cuts in the Czech Republic, a central European country of 10.5 million.

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