Czech voters go to polls in presidential election viewed as European referendum | World | News


Czechs are heading to the polls today in the final day of voting to elect a new president, amid concerns in Brussels over the result.

Reporting for the BBC, John Simpson told the Today programme that “Eurocrats in Brussels” are praying that the incumbent Milos Zemen “does very badly”.

Mr Zemen, who has served as president for the past five years, has used his tenure to consistently rail against the powers of the European Union and has even suggested the Czech Republic hold a referendum on their membership of the bloc. 

He is also leading the polls going into the first round of voting, just three months after Czechs voted for a populist Eurosceptic, Andrej Babis, as prime minister. 

In recent years, Mr Zemen has battled with leaders in Brussels over the migration crisis, and against the sanctions on Russia. 

His closest rival is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos, who is described as a quiet, sensible centrist politician – and vehemently pro-EU. 

Mr Simpson said: “The French, the Germans, the Eurocrats in Brusels are praying today that President Zemen does badly.

“In reality both Zemen and Drahos will do quite well, but not enough to win outright.”

Polls on the outcome of a run-off between Mr Zemen and Mr Drahos show the two leaders neck-and-neck among voters. 

According to the BBC report, the Czech Republic election “will have a monumental and game-changing impact” on the other Soviet states.

Many see the election as a referendum on the country’s traditional European alliances. 

The Czech Republic is a member of the Visegrad Group, alongside Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, which has increasingly moved away from policies of European integration led by Germany and Brussels. 

The Czechs are viewed as “the most prosperous and stable” of the Soviet satellite states and the EU fears a revival of anti-EU populism if one of the bloc’s most vocal critics wins.

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