Nonetheless, the former Soviet bloc nation is now a democracy that conducted the second round of its two-round presidential election on Friday.
At the end of the day, the left-leaning former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, the candidate of the Party of Civic Rights-Zeman's People, won by almost 10 percentage points over current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, the candidate of the fiscally conservative TOP 09 party. With all the ballots counted, the Czech Statistics Office reported Zeman polled 54.8 percent and Schwarzenberg polled 45.2 percent, according to the Associated Press.
"I promise that as a president elected in a direct popular vote I will try to be the voice of all citizens," AP quoted Zeman as saying. He will be the Czech Republic's first directly elected president.
During the election campaign, Schwarzenberg favored austerity cuts in the government budget that proved to be unpopular at the polls: "It definitely didn't help me," he said.
The first round of the two-round presidential election was held Jan. 11-12, when no candidate received a majority of the votes.
Zeman, 68, served as the country's prime minister from 1998 to 2002. During most of that period, he was also the leader of the Social Democratic Party, a center-left party that was once a weakling, but which he made into a powerhouse. After a failed presidential bid in 2003, Zeman retired from politics. This election marks his return to the spotlight.
Zeman is known to be far more pro-European Union than is his opponent. He is also unabashedly anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab. After the coordinated terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, Zeman, who was the Czech Republic's prime minister at the time, claimed the skyjacker Mohamed Atta had met with senior Iraqi intelligence in Prague in April 2001, thus supporting claims of an Iraq connection to al Qaeda. The U.S. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, aka the 9-11 Commission, later determined that such a meeting did not take place, as AP reported.
In June 2011, the Czech News Agency via the Prague Daily Monitor reported that Zeman was being sued for insulting Islam. In his comments, Zeman allegedly called Islam "the enemy" and an "anti-civilization." He also reportedly said, "Two billion people live in it, and it is financed partly from oil sales and partly from drug sales," while he compared believing in the Quran with believing in Nazism. He also once compared Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with Adolf Hitler, sealing his fate as a constant loser of arguments online.
Obviously, Zeman is an unusually outspoken politician, known for scathing attacks on his opponents, as well as his chain smoking and drinking, AP reported.
In the Czech Republic, the prime minister acts as the head of the government, while the president functions as the head of the state. This means, as president, Zeman will be the international face of the country and he will be able to appoint judges to the constitutional court, but he will not have the day-to-day power over the Parliament that he enjoyed as prime minister, as noted by BBC News.
Zeman is expected to be sworn in as president March 8. He has announced his first foreign trip will be to Slovakia, with which the Czechs used to form one state, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.