Czechs headed to the ballot box yesterday in a bellwether presidential election pitting anti-Muslim, pro-Russian incumbent Milos Zeman against his more liberal pro-European rivals.
Polls show the divisive 73-year-old ex-communist leading the pack of nine candidates ahead of Jiri Drahos, the pro-European former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
Although he is in pole position, the outspoken head of state -- who uses a cane to walk -- is unlikely to win an outright majority and is set to face a run-off vote on January 26-27.
A recent poll commissioned by Czech Television showed Drahos winning a second round with 48.5 percent of the vote against 44 percent for Zeman.
"Of course I'm nervous," Zeman told top-selling Czech daily Dnes on Thursday, adding that he expected a "difficult" run-off.
In a TV interview on Thursday, Zeman called on voters to go to the polls and use "common sense".
"They should ponder the candidates' pasts and work, not their promises."
Zeman's rhetoric echoes other populist-minded eastern EU leaders -- especially in Hungary and Poland -- at odds with Brussels over mandatory refugee quotas and various rules they see as attempts to limit national sovereignty.
He also has harsh anti-Muslim views, having once called the 2015 migrant crisis "an organised invasion" of Europe and insisted Muslims were "impossible to integrate".
Paradoxically, the country of 10.6 million people has received only 12 migrants under the EU quota system.