PRAGUE -- Czech President Milos Zeman failed to win re-election Saturday during the first round of the country's presidential election Saturday and will face a runoff in two weeks against the former head of the Czech country's Academy of Sciences. Zeman and Jiri Drahos advanced to a second round of voting because none of the nine candidates seeking the Czech Republic's largely ceremonial presidency received a majority of votes in the first round held Friday and Saturday.
However, with almost all ballots counted by the Czech Statistics Office, Zeman had 38.6 percent of the vote, a commanding lead over Drahos' 26.6 percent.
A former diplomat, Pavel Fischer, was a distant third with 10.2 percent. Songwriter Michal Horacek finished fourth with 9.2 percent, ahead of physician Marek Hilser, who had 8.8 percent.
Zeman congratulated Drahos and announced he was ready to face him in public debates before the Jan. 26-Jan. 27 runoff. Zeman didn't take part in any debates ahead of the first round of voting.
"Mr. Drahos said that he would like to meet me face to face. I am happy to oblige him," the president said.
Election officials said voter turnout was 61.9 percent in the preliminary election. Drahos called on all those "who want a change" to cast ballots in the runoff.
"The final is still ahead of us and that's what matters," Drahos said.
Zeman, 73, was elected in 2013 during the country's first direct presidential vote, a victory that returned the former left-leaning prime minister to power. As president, he has become a strong anti-migrant voice and major pro-Russian voice in EU politics. He seeking a second five-year term, but his outspoken views as well as his pro-Russian stance have stoked controversy, the BBC reports.
Drahos, 68, is seen as more western-oriented.
The previous two presidents of the republic created in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, were elected by Parliament.
Under the Czech Constitution, the president has the power to pick the prime minister and to appoint members of the Central Bank board. The president also selects Constitutional Court judges with the approval of Parliament's upper house. Otherwise, the president has little executive power since the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister.
In office, Zeman become known for strong anti-migrant rhetoric that won him support from the populist right. He has divided the nation with his pro-Russian stance and his support for closer ties with China.
A chain smoker with a soft spot for alcohol, he was one of the few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump's bid for the White House.
Unlike his euroskeptic predecessor Klaus, he flew the European Union flag at Prague Castle and used to be considered pro-Europe. But in recent years has used every opportunity to attack the E.U., and has proposed a referendum on the country's membership in the bloc after Britain decided to leave.
The BBC's Rob Cameron reports that Zeman appears to have done worse in rural areas than was expected.
Drahos is a political newcomer who is not affiliated with a political party and has said he wants the values of "truth, reason and decency" to win. He says he is worried about the rise of extremism and populism. A professor of chemistry, he headed the academy from 2009 until last year.
He has been outspoken about in his opposition to the president. "We say in Czech that 'the fish stinks from the head' and that perfectly sums up Mr. Zeman's term," he said, the BBC reported.