The Czech Republic has held its first direct presidential election, and defying polls predicting they were neck and neck, the former Social Democrat prime minister Milos Zeman, 68, has won with over 55% of the vote.
Whereas his opponent polled heavily in Prague and other large urban centres, Zeman benefitted from strong support in the provinces. He was also credited with privatising the main banks and attracting foreign investment when prime minister.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, a prince and member of one of central Europe’s greatest aristocratic houses, struggled to overcome his public image of being unable to speak perfect Czech, and his propensity, aged 75, to nod off at public meetings. His conservative party also raised taxes, cut social benefits and became mired in several corruption scandals.
The result makes it likely that the Czechs will tack further towards the EU as the outgoing head of state Vaclav Klaus is a leading eurosceptic.