On January 27, Czechia re-elected Milos Zeman as president. The Czech politician is known for his pro-Kremlin views and his desire to lift sanctions on Russia.
The Czech president received 51% of the votes, while his opponent— the former head of the National Academy of Sciences, Jiri Drahos — received 48%. Zeman’s victory signals a win for populism in Eastern Europe, the politician has openly supported the rising nationalist and anti-immigration sentiments in Czechia.
According to Czech journalist Veronika Pehe, one of the factors behind Zeman’s success was his last-minute decision to take part in a TV debate with Drahos. Zeman initially refused media appearances in the run up to the election’s first round, which was held on January 13.
As a result, his sudden change of heart may have “taken the Drahos team by surprise,” Pehe says, adding that “Drahos seemed somewhat unprepared.”
READ MORE: Czechia Re-elects Pro-Kremlin President
Zeman also came across stronger than Drahos during the debate, which was broadcast on commercial television. In part, that’s because the debate focused on issues that are Zeman’s strong suit: Czechia’s ban on smoking in public places and the right to bear arms. The Czech president has openly spoken out in favor of both lifting the smoking ban and loosening restrictions on guns ownership.
However, now that Zeman has secured his second term in office, the question is what he will do with it. Although the president’s role in Czechia is largely ceremonial, Pehe says that Zeman is “very good at interpreting the constitution very flexibly,” which could allow him to extend the powers of the presidential mandate.
In terms of foreign policy, Zeman’s “admiration and close ties to Vladimir Putin” and “frequent business trips to China,” suggest that Czechia will see further orientation toward the East in the next five years, she says.
Regarding the internal situation in Czechia, Pehe believes that Zeman’s alliances with “right-ring forces” could lead the Central European country to move in a more nationalist direction.
Hromadske spoke with Czech journalist Veronika Pehe via Skype to discuss the factors behind Zeman’s electoral success and what it means for Czechia.
/Interview by Ostap Yarysh
/Text by Sofia Fedeczko