Leftist ex-PM Zeman wins Czech presidential election

Sat Jan 26, 2013 12:03pm EST
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By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Leftist former prime minister Milos Zeman won the Czech Republic's first direct presidential election on Saturday, beating a conservative opponent he had accused of favoring foreign interests in a bitter campaign.

Zeman, a 68-year-old who favors more integration within the European Union, won by 54.8 to 45.2 percent over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, results from 99.9 percent of voting districts showed.

Economic forecaster Zeman, a Communist Party member before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, will steer Czechs closer to Europe's mainstream.

The anti-EU rhetoric of outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, who succeeded late playwright Vaclav Havel, has pushed the country towards the margins of the 27-member bloc.

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

Zeman said he wants to overcome divisions provoked by the election in the central European country of 10.5 million people. The final stage of the campaign was marked by doubts cast on the national loyalties of Schwarzenberg, a prince from a centuries-old aristocratic family who lived much of his life in Austria.

Zeman promised to tackle graft, an issue which has dominated political debate for years.

"I want to be president of the bottom 10 million. These include voters of Milos Zeman as well as Karel Schwarzenberg. I do not want to be president of mafias that act as parasites on this society," Zeman said.   Continued...

Presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Milos Zeman walks to cast his vote during the second round of the first ever direct Czech presidential election in Prague January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Petr Josek