With all the votes counted, Milos Zeman won 54.8 per cent of the vote for the largely ceremonial post, the Czech Statistics Office reported

A former left-leaning Prime Minister staged a big return to power by winning the Czech Republic’s first directly elected presidential vote.

With all the votes counted, Milos Zeman won 54.8 per cent of the vote for the largely ceremonial post, the Czech Statistics Office reported. His opponent, conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, had 45.2 per cent.

Voters seemed to punish Mr. Schwarzenberg for the government’s unpopular austerity cuts that aimed to reduce the budget deficit.

Since Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech Republic has had two Presidents elected by Parliament — Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.

But bickering during those votes led lawmakers to give that decision to the public.

The 68-year-old Mr. Zeman will replace the euro-sceptic Mr. Klaus, whose second and final term ends March 7. Mr. Zeman is considered more favourable toward the 27-nation European Union, to which the country belongs.

Under the Czech constitution, the President has the power to pick the Prime Minister after a general election and to appoint members of the Central Bank board.

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