Czechs vote in first round of presidential elections

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While the president may influence efforts to break a government stalemate as the cabinet is likely to lose the first confidence vote next week, Czech financial assets have been largely immune to political uncertainty.

"He is a man who fights for our national interests, he is not afraid to clearly state his opinion on Brussels, (migration) quotas, he fights for the interests of our entrepreneurs". Babis said Thursday he'd vote for Zeman in the election.

"I like that he speaks to voters", said Irena Matuskova, a Prague nurse who planned to vote for Zeman. "Babis could have chosen among personalities that are respected by the countries in the west and invited to them". Critics say his pro-Russian and anti-migrant rhetoric, scorn for media and support of anti-establishment forces including the far-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy, which advocates leaving the European Union, have overturned the role of the presidency, a job that has traditionally been that of a non-partisan voice of the nation. He has the support of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Czechs voted on Friday in the first round of a presidential election in which eight candidates sought to topple incumbent Milos Zeman, whose brash style and leanings toward Russian Federation and China have polarised the nation.

Before the second round of the previous presidential election in 2013, Babis told daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) he would vote for Zeman's rival Karel Schwarzenberg because Zeman continued with the capitalist mafia and corruption style of former president Vaclav Klaus.

If the talks stretch out beyond then, Mr Babis may have a harder time with some of Mr Zeman's opponents. He said this meeting did not influence his position on the presidential election. Unless one candidate wins a majority of the vote, which seems rather unlikely now, the two most successful ones will meet in the runoff two weeks later.

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Around two fifths of voters are estimated to have cast their ballots during the first day of presidential election on Friday.

Mr Babis is facing a confidence vote for his minority government next week with nearly no chance of winning.

Along with Zeman, former Science Academy chairman Jiri Drahos, businessman and lyricist Michal Horacek, former Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman and ex-PM Mirek Topolanek, medical doctor and university teacher Marek Hilser, former ambassador to France Pavel Fischer, Skoda Auto former board chairman Vladimir Kulhanek, Defence and Security Industry Association President Jiri Hynek and musician and producer Petr Hannig are running for president.

None of the other parties in parliament is ready to support or tolerate Babis's government.

The Czech lower house on Wednesday postponed the confidence vote until January 16 or later as lawmakers tussled over the fraud allegations and whether to lift his parliamentary immunity to allow prosecution.

Mr Zeman has promised to give Babis a second chance to form a government if the first attempt fails. The Prague Daily Monitor is not responsible for its content.

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