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Zeman and Putin

Czech election: Eurosceptic in the lead amid Russia meddling claims

Czechs will head to the polls on Friday to vote for a new president, with incumbent Milos Zeman facing allegations of Russian involvement.

Published: January 11, 2018, 11:22 am

    Prague

    The election could become bogged down in shrill allegations of Russian meddling, because Zeman is currently the favourite to win out of the nine candidates standing.

    The popular candidate had previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002 and is seen as Russia’s favourite candidate.

    The Czech politician, 73, has met frequently with Vladimir Putin. Russia meanwhile is constantly being accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and the European Union referendum.

    The Eurosceptic Zeman has criticised Muslim immigration and supported the lifting of sanctions against Moscow while calling for the recognition of Crimea.

    Polls show that Zeman has a 47.6 percent lead. According to kdovyhrajevolby.cz website which combines polls with bookmakers’ odds, his most serious challenger Jiri Drahos, former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, is trailing with 44.9 percent.

    Czech-based pro-Europe think tank European Values, maintain that the Czech Republic’s presidential election is thought to be one of the Kremlin’s most important “targets”.

    The report predicts the Czech Republic to be the “most intense battleground for Russian meddling efforts, especially during the presidential election”.

    It adds: “Kremlin-inspired Czech disinformation efforts are almost completely united behind president Zeman and will probably play the role of creator and offer a platform to massive disinformation and smear campaigns against Zeman’s challengers.”

    But Sean Hanley, a senior lecturer at UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, said many Czechs share Zeman’s friendly attitude towards Russia.

    Many have felt that the Czech Republic’s membership of the EU has not lived up to its promises, he said. “There’s a scepticism towards the EU and further integration,” Hanley told The Express, a British daily.

    “It’s rooted in the fact that the EU was presented as an end point for economic prosperity and catching up with the West, which hasn’t worked out for everyone.

    “Czech attitudes to Russia are very pragmatic… Their political stances are rooted in pragmatism and where their national interests lie.”

     

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