The 73-year-old defeated challenger Jiří Drahoš, a left-liberal academic, in every single electoral district outside the cosmopolitan capital and its environs in the first round of the elections — but figures in Brussels hoped the so-called ‘centrist’ candidates asking their voters to swing behind Drahoš in round two would oust the populist incumbent.
However, the veteran Zeman was able to see off the former President of the Czech Academy of Sciences after besting him in a series of head-to-head debates, despite the media — with whom he has an even more stormy relationship than U.S. President Donald Trump — constantly bombarding him with now-familiar accusations of being a Russian puppet.
Zeman’s long-standing opposition to mass migration stood him in good stead compared to his opponent, who voiced half-hearted opposition to the EU’s quotas but suggested he would be open to migrants in “limited” numbers. Polls suggest as many as three-quarters of Czechs are opposed to taking migrants from Muslim-majority countries.
While officially in support of the Czech Republic continuing its membership of the European Union, Zeman did put his weight behind offering the people a Brexit-style referendum during his election campaign. With the bloc’s approval ratings in the country at an all-time low, this presents Brussels with a real risk of a ‘Czexit’ or ‘Czechout’, before the United Kingdom’s departure is even official.
“Brexit is a decision that must be respected,” Zeman said on the campaign trail, suggesting that the Czech people should be allowed a vote on their future as well.
Drahoš’s position had been quite different, with the challenger warning that such a vote could be “very dangerous”, and that the Czech Republic did not have a tradition of allowing its citizens a direct say in politics, like nearby Switzerland.
Zeman is also opposed to the Czech Republic joining the euro currency, saying it would lead to “Czech taxpayers paying Greek debt”.