Zeman, Schwarzenberg in Czech president runoff: final result
Leftist ex-premier Milos Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will face off in the January 25-26 presidential runoff in the country's first-ever direct vote for a head of state, official final results showed Saturday.
In the first round vote on Friday and Saturday, the 68-year-old Zeman garnered 24.21-percent support, narrowly ahead of the 75-year-old conservative Schwarzenberg with 23.40 percent.
The winner will replace outgoing eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus, whose mandate expires on March 7.
With the powers of the Czech president being relatively limited, issues related to the republic's role within the European Union as well as corruption and recession woes are key in the election.
The outspoken Zeman, an ex-communist who led the country as prime minister in 1998-2002, has slammed blue-blooded artistocrat Schwarzenberg for being part of a centre-right government whose austerity drive, he insists, has hurt voters.
"Like in France, the presidential duel will be a clash between right- and left-wing candidates, and neither of us can shed the responsibility for the past or the present," Zeman told reporters Saturday.
Meanwhile, the debonaire, pipe-puffing Schwarzenberg famous for his bow ties and dozing off in public focused on cleaning up notoriously corrupt Czech politics.
"I promise I'll do my best to make us a well-behaved, successful country, and the heart of Europe," he said on Saturday.
In stark contrast to Klaus, both contenders are Europe-friendly.
Former centre-right prime minister Jan Fischer, who had led opinion polls before the election, scored 16.4 percent, followed by leftist senator Jiri Dienstbier with 16.1 percent.
"Jan Fischer was rather weak in debates. Confronted with his rivals, he didn't offer much," Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Charles University in Prague, told public broadcaster Czech Television.
Vladimir Franz, an eccentric artist who is tattooed head-to-toe, was running fifth among the nine contenders with nearly seven-percent support in the vote which saw turnout at a robust 61 percent.
The Czech Republic, a NATO and EU member yet to join the eurozone, has been mired in recession for a year, with its central bank predicting moderate 0.2-percent economic growth in 2013. Joblessness stood at 9.4 percent in December.