No candidate will win the necessary 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second-round runoff vote in two weeks. Current Czech President Milos Zeman is likely to face a pro-Western academic in the second round of voting.
Nearly complete results show President Milos Zeman has a large lead after the first round of voting in the Czech presidential election Saturday, though the final votes are still being tabulated.
Zeman had 38.6 percent, with more than 99 percent of the vote counted. His nearest rival is Jiri Drahos, a chemist and the former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, at 26.6 percent. Voting began on Friday, and the second round of voting will be held January 26-27.
The Czech government is led by the prime minister, but unlike other countries where the president has a largely ceremonial role, the Czech president is involved in many of the country's political decisions.
Zeman, 73, will face Drahos, 68, in the runoff, as the two men are far ahead of the rest of the field.
Diplomat Pavel Fischer, betting entrepreneur Michal Horacek and physician Marek Hilser were the next closest contenders in the nine-man race; each had about 9 percent.
In the 1990s, Zeman led the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) out of the political wilderness and into power, cementing its position as the country's leading left-of-center party over the past two decades.
But fierce political infighting resulted in Zeman leaving the party several years ago.
That left his political opponents to run the party and, for the past four years, the country as the CSSD led a left-right government coalition. Despite a robust economy that includes low unemployment and healthy economic growth, the CSSD was trounced in parliamentary elections last fall.
Pals with Putin
Zeman has forged close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his speeches have become known for their nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric similar to that heard among the nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, which oppose mandatory refugee quotas being pushed by Brussels.
Zeman's rhetoric and actions have provoked the ire of many Czechs, particularly in the capital, Prague, where Zeman cast his ballot Friday.
One woman confronted the president shortly after he arrived at the polling station. Bare-breasted, she jumped in front of him with the words "Putin's slut" painted on her chest.
She was immediately tackled by three security agents and arrested, while a shaken Zeman was escorted from the room. He returned a few minutes later to cast his vote.
The incident may wind up helping the frail president by provoking sympathy for him, as Saturday's newspapers blared headlines like, "Attack on Zeman" and "A scandalous incident."
bik/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)