TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Jiří Drahoš, an eminent chemist who is running as an independent on a centrist political platform, is challenging Zeman who has been in office since 2013, following a spell as the country’s prime minister at the turn of the millennium.
The candidate’s politics has drifted so far from its origins that his former party, the Czech Social Democrats, have refused to endorse him, and its youth wing has gone as far as to endorse his opponent Drahoš.
Drahoš has complained of “low blows” from Zeman in the contest and insinuated that he has received support from Russia – a country the incumbent president has been close to in world affairs.
The former head of the country’s academy of sciences claims to have been smeared as a paedophile and a pro-immigrant elitist.
The issue of and the refugee crisis has played a significant role in the campaign so far, with the candidates’ stances on refugees facing interrogation.
Both oppose migrant quotas from the EU, but Zeman has taken a more extreme position, ruling out Czechia taking any refugees at all. Billboards have also been erected around the country by a group supportive of Zeman with the phrase “Stop immigrants and Drahoš! This country is ours”
Polling stations are open on both Friday and Saturday, with surveys suggesting the result is on a knife-edge. Match-up polling between the two candidates going into the contest gave Drahoš a marginal lead though some surveys have seen Zeman close the gap and even pull narrowly ahead. The two candidates are so close that even the smallest error in polling could see the result reversed, however.
Zeman topped the first round with 38.5 per cent of the vote, while Drahos came second with 26.6 per cent.
Now in the second round, the top two candidates go head to head and are competing for the votes that originally went to the other, now eliminated candidates.
Though the Czech presidency is an ostensibly ceremonial role with little day-to-day power, the victor could play an influential role in resolving an on-going political scandal affecting Andrej Babiš, the country’s prime minister and head of government.
.Babiš lost a no confidence vote in the Czech parliament last year, around a month after taking office, and the new president will set the shape of negotiations to form a new government.