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Czech Republic Reelection Settles Populist Presidency

Milos Zeman confirmed his second term as president of the Czech Republic this week after a
second round of voting. After failing to receive enough support in the first election, this
unprecedented outcome is expected to pose a “nightmare” for the EU, as the populist
president is known for his anti-European statements and close ties to Russia and China.

Credits: The Washington Post/Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Credits: The Washington Post/Petr David Josek/Associated Press

73-year- old Zeman was elected in 2013 in the first public presidential vote since the country’s
breakoff from Soviet rule in 1989. Since then, various analysts accuse him of fueling the deep
division in Czech society with his anti-immigration and anti-EU solidarity statements.

After Zeman failed to gain sufficient governmental support in this year’s first election, his public
support was contested by Jiri Drahos, former Academy of Sciences head, who is known for his
commitment to the country’s membership in the EU, and its liberal values. The outcome of the
second election starkly shows the division of values within the country as Zeman won with 51.4
percent of the vote compared to Draho’s 48.6 percent.

In addition, their campaigns divided international spectators. While slogans such as “Stop
migrants and Drahos” and “This country is ours” have long worried the EU, Zeman harbors close ties to Russia and China, or as Michal Koran, an analyst at the Aspen Institute, described
Russian sentiments after the reelection: “The Russians could not be happier”.

Credits: CityA.M./Getty Images

Credits: CityA.M./Getty Images

EU officials worry about Zeman’s plan to hold a referendum modeled after Brexit to determine
the future relationship between the Czech Republic and the EU. Zeman himself stressed the
importance of such a referendum stating, “many politicians and journalists have inferior
intelligence compared to normal people.” Such statements cause some to liken him to
President Trump, with headlines labeling Zeman as the “trumpiest president in Europe”.

The president’s anti-establishment sentiments also become apparent with his openly
celebrated smoking and drinking habits, as well as jokes about “liquidating journalists”. Thus,
this election was commonly considered a “battle of ideas” between populism and elitism, or
east and west. However, the exact consequences of his second win remain to be seen. So far, it
can only be speculated whether the election’s outcome confirms the EU’s nightmare of the
Czech Republic continuing the same euro-skeptic direction as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.