Presidential contest engages Czechs abroad

Czechs living abroad will start casting their ballots in the second round of presidential elections on Thursday, a day earlier than in the Czech Republic. Polling stations will first open in Brazil, at 5 p.m. Central European time, followed by Argentina, Chile, Cuba and the eastern coast of the US and Canada.

Illustrative photo: Ondřej TomšůIllustrative photo: Ondřej Tomšů Czech nationals living abroad can vote at 109 polling stations around the world, mostly at Czech embassies and consulates, but also at foreign military missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 12,000 Czech expats took part in the first round of the presidential elections, with the highest voter turnout recorded in Great Britain, Brussels and Germany.

That number is considerably higher than in the first direct presidential elections five years ago, when some 8,900 people turned out for the first round, and around 10,700 for the second round.

Jan Blažek is a member of the election committee at the Czech Embassy in London:

“We have seen this year a very high turnout in the first round of the elections two weeks ago. It was 1,620 voters who actually cast their vote at our embassy which is more than three times as many people as in the first presidential election five years ago.

“And according to the records from the previous presidential elections five years ago, we can expect an even higher turnout for the second round this weekend.”

Jiří Drahoš, photo: CTKJiří Drahoš, photo: CTK More than 45 percent of Czechs living abroad voted for Jiří Drahoš in the first round of the presidential election. Pavel Fischer finished second with over 20 percent of the vote, followed by Marek Hilšer with more than 11 percent.

The incumbent Czech president Miloš Zeman, who won the first round of elections in the Czech Republic, secured 7.5 percent of the vote abroad, placing fifth.

Jiří Drahoš, the former head of Academy of Sciences, who will challenge Mr Zeman in the second round, gained more than 50 percent of the vote among Czech voters in the US and Brussels. He also scored high in other parts of Europe, as well as in the U.S., Russia and China. The incumbent president Miloš Zeman, on the other hand, won in Kosovo and Afghanistan, securing the most votes from Czech soldiers deployed on foreign missions.

According to Tamara Katuščák, deputy to the Czech ambassador in Belgium, the large Czech community in Brussels, which amounts to several thousand people, is watching the presidential race very closely:

“If we look at the participation rate of Czech voters in the last elections, be it presidential or parliamentary elections, Czechs here in Brussels are really interested and the participation rate is really growing.

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTKMiloš Zeman, photo: CTK “In the first presidential elections in 2013 we had about half of the votes, 543, compared to 1,043 this year, so it is really a significant growth. We are expecting a large number of people also for the second round of the presidential elections.”

Polling stations around the Czech Republic will open at 2 p.m. on Friday. The results of the country’s second direct presidential elections are expected to be known at around 4 p.m. on Saturday.