Czechia voted on January 27 to keep incumbent President Milos Zeman in power despite a strong challenge from chemist Jiri Drahos. This result signals Czechia’s continued departure from Western alliances, as Zeman’s platform includes closer relations with Russia and China and less integration with the European Union. Zeman has openly commented on his disapproval of sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea and continues to promote rapprochement with the Eastern power. Since his election as Czechia’s first directly-elected president in 2013, Zeman has become a controversial populist leader whose continued success marks a rightward shift in Czech politics and foreign policy.
Along with his anti-EU integration rhetoric and rocky relationship with the press, Zeman often criticized Western European powers for becoming “heavily poisoned with appeasement” regarding the influx in immigrants from Arab countries. Drahos, on the other hand, won most of his support among younger Czechs with his pro-European Union and pro-NATO policies. Ultimately, Zeman secured victory with 51 percent of the vote. The voter turnout of over 66 percent also suggests a regional division between the two candidates and their outlooks. Drahos won more votes from western strongholds like Prague and Central Bohemia, whereas Zeman won the vote in a total of ten regions, including many rural districts and the eastern industrial region of Moravia-Silesia.
As President of the Czech Republic, Zeman has the power to choose his prime minister and government officials. Further controversy surrounding his victory revolves around his decision to nominate Andrej Babis as his new prime minister. As a Czech billionaire with similar populist views, Babis is often compared to President Trump. The leader of the center-right party ANO secured nearly 30 percent of the vote in October, while the far-right group SPD increased its parliamentary seats by eight. Despite a narrow populist victory, sustained uncertainty in the region has certainly motivated the Czech Republic’s marked rightward turn in recent years, as it has motivated other Eastern European countries in recent years.