17:26 GMT +325 May 2018
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    Demonstrators attend a protest rally against Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis and President Milos Zeman in Prague, Czech Republic, May 17, 2017

    Russian Shill vs. Globalist Puppet: Czech Presidential Election Turns Ugly

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    Political strife has overtaken the Czech Republic as their prime ministership is vacant and their presidential election looms - one presidential candidate has been accused of being a Russian shill and the other of being a globalist puppet. So, par for the course in the year 2018.

    In one corner is the incumbent, Miloš Zeman, a right-wing populist who has avowed his admiration of US President Donald Trump and taken a hardline stance against migrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations. Zeman has held his office since 2013, the first-ever Czech president to be elected by the popular vote.

    In the other corner is Jiří Drahoš, a chemist who is the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Drahoš is an outspoken supporter of Czech cooperation with the likes of the EU and NATO. A newcomer to the political world, Drahoš impressed with his debate performance and fundraising ability.

    Drahoš received 26.6 percent of the vote in the first round of voting earlier in January, compared to Zeman's 38.6 percent. However, left-wing and center groups have since rallied around the former scientist and he now enjoys a slight edge in opinion polls. Many voters remain undecided on the eve of the elections, slated for Friday and Saturday.

    However, Drahoš claims he has been smeared online as a communist-era secret police collaborator, a globalist elitist backed by foreign conspiracies, a pedophile and a puppet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has also hinted that those pesky Russians are responsible for this, interfering on the more pro-Russia Zeman's behalf.

    This isn't the first time Drahoš has made such a claim. He warned in December that Moscow might interfere in the Czech election just as it had in the 2016 US election — an allegation that was made in the US over a year ago and still lacks anything resembling decisive evidence.

    Zeman replied that Drahoš was just trying to cover himself for when he lost and was being a preemptively sore loser just like Hillary Clinton.

    Immigrants remain a touchy subject in the Czech Republic — even the liberal Drahoš has opposed the EU's migrant quota relocation program, as supporting it is completely beyond the pale for Czech politicians. Meanwhile, a group called the Friends of Miloš Zeman ran a billboard and newspaper advert that read: "Stop immigrants and Drahoš! This country is ours."

    On his part, Drahoš implied that Zeman was himself a puppet of foreign governments during Tuesday's debate when he told Zeman that "the problem of migrants is not addressed in China or Russia."

    Supporters of Drahoš have followed his lead, with the Prague-based European Values think tank calling Zeman a "Kremlin Trojan Horse" and claiming Russia is behind the smear campaign against Drahoš.

    "We don't have any clear evidence of financial links [showing] somebody in Russia is sending money to these websites, but I can imagine that if they wanted to, it would be pretty easy," said Veronika Víchová, an analyst with European Values, to The Guardian.

    While the Czech president is a position beneath that of the prime ministership, the president still wields considerable power, such as the ability to veto parliamentary laws and appoint judges.

    More importantly, the country has been left adrift after the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the country's second-wealthiest man, whose populist stylings have also drawn comparisons to Trump. Babis won the parliamentary election in December and was forced out of office by a vote of no confidence just one month later.

    Babis, who has been accused of defrauding the Czech government by using EU funds for one of his businesses, may see himself in jail if federal prosecutors have their way. Zeman, a close ally of Babis', has vowed to re-appoint Babis regardless of whether he defeats Drahoš or not.

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    Tags:
    smear campaign, political climate, presidential election, European Union, Jirri Drahos, Milos Zeman, Andrej Babis, Russia, Czech Republic
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