MOSCOW, January 12 (RIA Novosti) – Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg created a local political sensation on Saturday by making it to the runoff of the country’s first direct presidential vote, where he would face former Prime Minister Milos Zeman.
Social democrat Zeman, 68, led the first round of the elections with 24.2 percent of the vote, the Czech Statistical Office said after counting more than 99 percent of the ballots.
Schwarzenberg, a prince from an 800-year-old aristocratic family who holds center-right views, had 23.5 percent, defying opinion polls most of which pegged him as the second or third runner-up.
Another ex-Prime Minister, Jan Fischer, named the most likely runner-up, was only third with 16.4 percent.
Leftist politician Jiri Dienstbier Jr. was fourth with 16.1 percent, while the remaining five candidates all scored in the single digits.
The turnout at the vote, which took place on Friday and Saturday, was 61.2 percent. The runoff will be held on Jan. 25 and 26.
The presidential office in the Czech Republic is vested with considerable authority. Since the country declared independence in 1993, the president was elected by the parliament, but rules were amended last year, paving the way for the first presidential elections in the country.
Schwarzenberg, 75, who spent the years of Communist rule in emigration, is known for his considerable wealth and has been proclaimed Czech Republic’s richest politician – which, he claimed, makes him immune to corruption.
On the other hand, Zeman, who was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002, is reputed to be the country’s poorest politician and considered to be incorruptible, though his Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci admitted to ties to pro-Russian lobbyists.