Leftist ex-PM Zeman wins Czech presidential election

January 27, 2013 - 1:12:27 am

PRAGUE: Leftist former prime minister Milos Zeman won the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election, beating a conservative opponent, results showed yesterday.

Zeman, 68, was leading by 55.1 to 44.9 percent over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who is from a centuries-old aristocratic family, results from 98.3 percent of voting districts showed.

Economic forecaster Zeman, a member of the Communist Party before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, will take the Czechs closer to the European mainstream. Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus is strongly Eurosceptic.

Czech presidents do not wield much day-to-day power but represent the country abroad and appoint prime ministers, central bankers and judges. 

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. 

He has an appeal among poorer and rural voters. Schwarzenberg’s centre-right cabinet has raised taxes, cut social benefits and suffered several corruption scandals.

Zeman is credited with privatising the main banks and attracting foreign investment during his premiership. Opponents criticise his friendship with former communist officials and businessmen with links in Russia.