Image Pro-Russia populist president wins second 5 year term in Czech Republic [Lima Charlie News]
Pro-Russia populist president wins second 5 year term in Czech Republic [Lima Charlie News]

Pro-Russia populist president Milos Zeman wins second 5 year term in Czech Republic

The Czech Republic’s pro-Russia, right wing populist President Milos Zeman won a second five-year term today, after beating opponent Jiri Drahos, former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences in a run-off election.

The Czech Statistics Office reported that Zeman received 51.5 per cent of the vote during the two-day runoff election, while Drahos garnered 48.5 per cent.

Zeman, 73, at a victory speech in Prague, called his win “my last political victory” and said “no political loss will follow.” Zeman stood by Tomio Okamura, leader of the anti-immigrant Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD), which supported his re-election campaign.

Right wing populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Zeman had been working together since October to push a pro-Russia and anti-immigrant agenda in the country. Czech voters, however, had begun pushing back.

In the country’s presidential elections on January 12th, Zeman received just 38 percent of the vote, far short of a majority, while his primary challenger, Jiri Drahos, a first-time politician, came in second with 26 percent of the first-round vote. The other candidates, who finished third through sixth, all forwarded their support to Drahos.

Some have alleged that the election was influenced by a sustained Russian “fake news” disinformation campaign.  

Jiri Drahos, Aug 13, 2017 [Matej Slávik/Hospodarske Noviny]

Zeman has been compared at times to President Donald Trump, due to his stance on such issues as immigration, Russia, Muslims and for jokes about “liquidating” journalists. Drahos, 68, focused his campaign on maintaining ties to the EU and NATO.

Before his victory, Zeman wasn’t the only populist in the Czech Republic struggling to hold onto his power. On Jan. 16, Prime Minister Andrej Babis failed to form a coalition government in the country’s parliament, despite leading the largest political party in the country with 78 of the 200 parliamentary seats.

Babis was stripped of his immunity by the Czech parliament last Friday amidst an investigation into charges of fraud. While Babis has made no attempt to protest the decision — he actually voted in favor of removing his own immunity — he has protested the investigation for months. Babis has called the charges a political ploy by his opponents.

“We live in a country where you can order a prosecution of somebody and you can probably get somebody in jail,” Prime Minister Babis said in a speech in front of parliament.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session during a confidence vote for the newly appointed government he leads, in Prague, Czech Republic January 16, 2018. [REUTERS/David W Cerny]
The fraud charges against Babis, the second wealthiest person in the country, relate to EU subsidies for a development project carried out by an organization called Agrofert. Agrofert is a conglomerate of companies founded by Mr. Babis, who was the sole owner until 2017 when he relinquished control to run for office.

His immunity had already been lifted by lawmakers once, back in September 2017, but Babis regained it when a new parliament was elected in October. Now that his immunity has been removed a second time, legal action is possible as investigations continue.

Hospodarske Noviny, a Czech newspaper, recently leaked documents from EU investigators suggesting that Babis had committed “numerous breaches of national (Czech) and EU legislation.”

Czech Republic’s President Milos Zeman (L) talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2015. [REUTERS]
As far as this weekend’s presidential elections go, they are also expected to be a test of Russia’s influence in the country.


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