Ex-premier elected as new Czech president
PRAGUE (AP) – Former left-leaning Prime Minister Milos Zeman staged a big return to power Saturday by winning the Czech Republic’s first directly elected presidential vote.
With almost all the votes counted Saturday, the Czech Statistics Office reported that Zeman won 54.8 per cent of the vote for the largely ceremonial post.
His opponent, conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, had 45.9 per cent. “Long live Zeman!” his supporters chanted at his campaign headquarters in Prague.
“I promise that as a president elected in a direct popular vote I will try to be the voice of all citizens,” Zeman said.
Since Czechoslovakia officially split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech Republic has had two presidents elected by Parliament: Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus. But bickering during those votes led the legislature to give that decision to the general public.
The 68-year-old Zeman will replace the euro-skeptic Klaus, whose second and final term ends March 7. Zeman is considered more favourable toward the 27-nation European Union, to which the country belongs.
A chain smoker who likes a good drink, Zeman made international headlines as prime minister with his outspoken comments.
He once compared the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler, drawing condemnations from the EU and the Arab League, and called Austrians who opposed a Czech nuclear plant “idiots”.
After the Sept 11 attacks in the US, Zeman and his interior minister said they believed that hijacker Mohamed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001.
That purported meeting was cited as evidence of a possible al-Qaeda connection to Iraq. The 9/11 commission later said such a meeting never happened.
In this campaign, one of the top issues became the 1945 expulsion of three million ethnic Germans from then-Czechoslovakia in a move approved by the Allies.