CZECH REPUBLIC

Left-wing economist Milos Zeman wins Czech presidential election

Outspoken economist garners 55.7 per cent support to defeat his aristocratic rival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 5:02am
AFP

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A tough, outspoken chain smoker who loves a glass of wine, Europe-friendly veteran left-winger Milos Zeman replaces ardent eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus as president of the Czech Republic.

Beating conservative foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg, ex-prime minister Zeman had 55.7 per cent support against 44.3 per cent for his rival, an aristocrat, in the central European republic's first direct presidential election.

"I'm a slightly burnt-out candle which however has some wax left," the burly, silver-haired 68-year-old Zeman said dryly on the campaign trail.

The economist won fame in communist Czechoslovakia just before totalitarianism was toppled in 1989 for publishing a magazine article decrying the utter failure of the communist command economy.

His rise on the political stage soon saw him sharing it with late Velvet Revolution hero Vaclav Havel, the first post-communist Czech president, and his successor Klaus.

Zeman focused his campaign on seeking the middle ground in a bid to woo votes on both the left and right, particularly among those bitter over a recession and the ensuing painful austerity measures by the country's centre-right government.

"I'm a left-wing politician, but I'm seeking votes from left to right. A left-wing idiot is as dangerous as a right-wing idiot," he told voters at a recent meeting.

Zeman had joined the left-leaning Social Democratic Party after communism fell, taking its helm in 1993.

Before the vote, Zeman said he would attend government meetings far more frequently than his predecessors Havel and Klaus.

"The president is not a ficus or an oleander standing in the corner of the room, whose role comprises merely being watered from time to time," he said.

Political analyst Josef Mlejnek said he expected Zeman to play an active role in Czech politics.

"I think he might want to take the presidency far more actively, and there is the threat that the Czech Republic might make a shift from the parliamentary system to a semi-presidential system," Mlejnek said.