Miloš Zeman, the populist Czech president, faces a fight for his political life in an election run-off against a pro-western liberal rival who claims he has been the victim of dirty tricks. With the outcome on a knife-edge, Zeman’s challenger, Jiří Drahoš, a former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences who is campaigning to cement the Czech Republic’s place in the EU and Nato, says he has been smeared as a paedophile, communist collaborator and pro-immigrant elitist with ties to Angela Merkel. The accusations could have a decisive effect, with opinion polls showing Drahoš has a slight edge over Zeman heading into the ballot, to be held on Friday and Saturday.
Two weeks ago Zeman, 73, finished ahead of Drahoš in a first-round election featuring nine contenders but fell short of the absolute majority that would have led to him being re-elected. Most of the other candidates subsequently endorsed Drahoš, helping him to pull ahead, but a potentially significant 10% of voters are still undecided.
Criticism on the internet and elsewhere has left the sober-mannered Drahoš, 68, complaining of “low blows” and hinting at interference from Moscow to help Zeman, who has gained a reputation for being pro-Russian on international affairs.