PRAGUE, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The first round of Czech presidential election ended Saturday with former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg advanced to the second round.
Zeman, former Social Democrat PM running for the small Citizens' Rights Party (SPOZ), gained 24.21 percent of the vote. Schwarzenberg, head of the conservative junior ruling TOP 09 party, gained 23.40 percent.
Both Zeman and Schwarzenberg are politicians of the older generation, "children of the 1990s."
The chances of the two leading candidates to be elected president in the second round will probably be balanced, because Zeman beat Schwarzenberg by only less than 1 percent of the vote in the first round.
In the second round, Schwarzenberg's narrow gap may be more than comfortably compensated by voters of unsuccessful right-wing candidates.
The fail of former interim prime minister Jan Fischer (unaffiliated) in the first round is a big surprise as he was one of the two favorite candidates according to pre-election public opinion polls.
After his failure, Fischer said Schwarzenberg is closer to him than Zeman, who would "isolate the country's eastwards."
The senior opposition Social Democrats (CSSD), whose candidate failed in the election, may decide on whom to back on Saturday night.
The junior opposition Communists (KSCM), who did not field a candidate of their own and supported leftist candidates ahead of the first round, have said they continue supporting Zeman now.
Jana Bobosikova (Sovereignty) said she would not support any of the two leading candidates.
Composer Vladimir Franz said he would not back either of the two advancing candidates for the time being.
Political analysts say they do not prefer any of the two candidates, both of them have the chance to be elected. The supporters of the strongest unsuccessful candidates in the first round will be crucial for the run-off outcome.
Zeman, born in 1944, was the prime minister from 1998 to 2002. He is known for his sharp, even insulting, speeches and wit. The Czech economy became stronger during his tenure as prime minister.
Schwarzenberg, Prince of Schwarzenberg, was born in 1937. He is the oldest among the nine candidates. He was a Senator from Prague from 2004 to 2010. In May 2010, he was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies, gaining the largest number of preference votes.
The second round of the presidential election is scheduled for Jan. 25-26.
Zeman on Saturday night called on his supporters to back him also in the second round.
Zeman, called by his rival Schwarzenberg "a man of the past", pointed out Schwarzenberg shares responsibility for the present unpopular government of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS), including Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09 first deputy chairman).
"No one can evade his/her responsibility for either the past or the present time," Zeman added.
Schwarzenberg, "a man of the present time," also thanked voters for casting their ballots for him.
Surprised by the high support he received, he thanked his supporters and appreciated the performance of his team of aides and of young people in general.
He said if he won the second round and became president, he would try hard to help the Czech Republic become a respectable and successful country.
Schwarzenberg said he considers Zeman, his rival in the second round, a big political professional and opponent, who, nevertheless, represents the past.
"I hope in the next five years I will succeed in bringing our society, our country, to a situation where we'll be able to say that the motto on the presidential flag. The truth prevails, corresponds to reality."
This is the first direct presidential election in Czech history. Previous presidents were elected by the two houses of parliament. Outgoing President Vaclav Klaus' second and last five-year mandate expires on March 7.
The turnout of the first round is 61.3 percent, or about 5.17 million people.