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Foreign media highlight Zeman vs Drahoš fight for presidency

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Berlin/Vienna/Paris/Moscow/London/Warsaw, Jan 25 (CTK) – The German media consider the Czech presidential runoff a fight between calm, pro-Western Jiri Drahos and pro-Eastern populist Milos Zeman, who seeks re-election, and they believe Czech relations with Germany and other EU member states may improve if Drahos wins.

The Austrian media say turnout may decide on the winner who will be known on Saturday afternoon.

The French media, too, see the election as a duel between a populist president and his liberal, pro-European challenger.

The Russian media, on the other hand, focus on an alleged Russian interference in the Czech presidential elections, with most of them citing Zeman’s statement that Drahos’s words about a possible interference were an offence of the Czech voters.

The German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung says President Zeman has been dividing the Czech Republic by his populism and provocations, while Tagesspiegel labels him an “egoistic boor” motivated by lust for power. Der Spiegel magazine writes Zeman deliberately provoked and stirred up hatred.

The German media also comment on Zeman’s close relation to Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO), his deteriorated health condition, his crusade against immigrants and his focus on Russia and China. Tagesspiegel writes it is noteworthy that Zeman’s popularity is not harmed by his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, although too close relations with Moscow still look like collaboration in the country that was occupied by the Soviet troops in the late 1960s.

Drahos is given far less space than Zeman in the German media, being considered a calm and sometimes even boring but still convincing candidate who is just the opposite of Zeman in many aspects.

The daily Sachsische Zeitung writes that Drahos makes it clear that the Czech Republic is part of the European Union and NATO. With Drahos as the head of state, permanent presidential trips to Moscow and Beijing would stop, the paper says. Moreover, Drahos might be a reassuring element in the Visegrad Group, which also includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The Austrian dailies Der Standard and Kurier expect the result of the presidential runoff to be very narrow and they say turnout may be the decisive factor. The Austrian news agency APA also writes that the turnout may decide on the winner, adding that a majority of those who usually do not take part in elections support Zeman.

APA writes that the country is in fact divided between the cities whose inhabitants want Drahos and the countryside that prefers Zeman. According to APA, the main issue of the first TV duel between Zeman and Drahos was the taxation of the financial compensation that the Czech state has been paying to churches for their unreturned property that was confiscated by the communist regime.

Daily Die Presse writes Drahos is a man who wants to unite the country and an opposite of Zeman. Zeman step by step led the country eastwards and made a U-turn from an EU supporter to a Eurosceptic, the paper says.

The French news agency AFP writes that migration has become the main issue of the final phase of the campaign before the Czech presidential runoff. Zeman presents the migration wave as a terrorist threat and an organised invasion of Europe and Zeman’s followers label his rival Drahos “a welcomer”, somebody who wants immigrants to flow into the country, AFP writes, considering Drahos a pro-EU researcher who warns against fear, hysteria and intolerance.

Radio France Internationale says the Czech Republic is yet another European country full of populism, along with Austria, Hungary and Poland. Both ANO leader Andrej Babis, who won the autumn Czech general election and has been trying to form a government since then, and pro-Russian President Zeman are populists, France Inter says.

Migration and refugee quotas demanded by the EU irritate Czech voters and make them worried about their security, which leads to a lack of trust in the EU as well as in the existing institutions and mainstream parties, according to France Intel. In the Islamophobic atmosphere of a society without Muslims, space opens for uncritical accepting of disinformation, especially from Russian sources, the radio says.

The daily Le Monde asks why so many Czechs and other East Europeans are so critical of the project of a unified Europe. Citing Martin Michelot from the Prague-seated think tank Europeum, Le Monde says it is because they were promised that their countries would get on the same level as West Europe, which has not happened.

The leftist daily Liberation writes that the socialist Zeman turned into a xenophobic, pro-Russian and Eurosceptic nationalist who spreads hatred.

The Belgian daily La Libre writes that the presidential election will decide whether Eurosceptic populism would continue to prevail in the Czech Republic. Young voters criticise the older generations of being afraid of a change and they hope that Drahos would prevent extremism from increasing in the country, La Libre writes.

Russian news servers write Zeman ridiculed Drahos’s statement that Russian secret services might interfere into the Czech presidential election. The Krasnaya vesna server says a new trend appeared due to the United States, where opposition forces in foreign countries accuse Russia of their election failures. These accusations are false and there is no evidence of any such interference at all, Krasnaya vesna writes.

The Vesti server, too, writes that Drahos has no evidence for his claim, which is typical.

The nationalist server Russkiy mir says Drahos scares Czech citizens. The Tsargrad TV, with a similar background, says Drahos tries to confuse Czech voters.

Most Russian media comment on the developments in the Czech Republic from the perspective of the interests of the Russian foreign policy. A part of the media openly side with Zeman.

Referring to the Czech presidential election, Britain’s Financial Times (FT) writes that liberalism faces a big test in the Czech Republic.

According to FT, the election result will be a lesson for democracies all over the world. President Milos Zeman shows anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, Eurosceptical and pro-Russian tendencies similar to those displayed by the far-right wing and conservative nationalist politicians elsewhere in Central Europe, the paper writes.

The rival candidate, Jiri Drahos, is a liberal intellectual adhering to the EU’s internationalist values, it writes.

In the first round of the direct election two weeks ago, Zeman benefited from the support of the elderly, low-income and less educated population of smaller towns and the countryside, while Drahos prevailed in Prague with its young and educated voters. A similar division of society could also been seen in various elections in Poland, Hungary and Austria of late, FT writes.

These four central European examples indicate that French President Emmanuel Macron was right when he said in 2016 that people in democratic states are divided into two almost equally strong camps of those supporting an open society and a closed society, respectively. This division was an essence of the French presidential election and also influenced the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the USA, the daily writes.

The Czech presidential runoff will be a battle for the foreign political orientation of the Presidential Office, but it will also determine the fate of Andrej Babis’s cabinet, Polish media write.

Like Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, Babis, who is the Czech PM in resignation, will keep his fingers crossed for Zeman, a pro-Russian policy promoter, rather than his rival, academic Jiri Drahos, who would like the Czechs to become more active in the EU, the media write.

Rzeczpospolita describes Zeman as “a cynical, well-versed in battling, experienced and sly player,” who inclines to a close cooperation with Russia and China.

Drahos, for his part, is a decent professor and a typical European following up Vaclav Havel’s ideals of non-political politics, Rzeczpospolita, a conservative daily close to the Polish government, writes.

For the Polish government, the victory of Zeman might paradoxically be a good piece of news, though Zeman is one of the EU’s most pro-Russian politicians, the paper says, but mentions other stances of Zeman that make him close to Polish government Law and Justice (PiS) party chairman Kaczynski.

Both are supporters of anti-Brussels, anti-German and anti-immigration policy and Kazcynski, a typical rightist politician, will therefore probably wish the leftist Zeman’s victory in the Czech presidential race, the daily writes.

Drahos would like to see the Czechs stand closer to the EU core, by which he approximates the current Polish opposition, it adds.

The liberal Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza mentions Zeman’s health as an important topic of the presidential campaign, besides foreign policy and migration.

Furthermore, the fate of PM Babis depends on whether Zeman wins the election, the daily writes, adding that Zeman and Babis, a billionaire leader of the ANO movement, are long-term allies whose pact strengthened following ANO’s victory in the October general election.

Zeman has now promised support for Babis’s second attempt to form a cabinet, a step Babis probably could not expect from Drahos as president, Gazeta Wyborcza writes.

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