Election to be decided by run-off


The Czech Republic’s first direct election for president will be decided by a run-off in a fortnight, after two colourful characters from left and right came out on top in the first round.

Former prime minister Milos Zeman won the ballot, held on Friday and Saturday, with 24.2 per cent of the vote. Current foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg came second with 23.4 per cent.

Mr Zeman, an economist and ex-communist, is an outspoken man of the centre-left who is well known for a blunt and sometimes brusque manner and for his love of strong Czech liquor.

Kicking off what promises to be two weeks of feisty campaigning, Mr Zeman denounced the aristocratic Mr Schwarzenberg for being part of a government which has introduced tough austerity measures.

“He is a man who, as minister and first deputy prime minister, voted to raise taxes on food and medicines,” said Mr Zeman.

The flamboyant Mr Schwarzenberg is rarely seen without a bow-tie and is a keen pipe-smoker. His family owned vast estates in central Europe before confiscation by the communists. He has a reputation for probity – and for falling asleep during meetings.