THE future of populist Czech president Milos Zeman is uncertain as this weekend’s election run-off against a pro-western liberal looks to be a tightly fought race.

With polls putting the outcome on a knife-edge, Zeman’s challenger Jiri Drahos says he has been smeared as a paedophile, communist collaborator and pro-immigrant elitist with ties to Angela Merkel. The accusations could reverse the slight edge Drahos is currently enjoying as the pair head into the ballot, which is held today and tomorrow.

A fortnight ago 73-year-old Zeman, who became the Czech Republic’s first directly elected president in 2013, finished ahead of Drahos in a first-round election featuring nine contenders.

While Zeman fell short of the absolute majority needed for re-election most of the other candidates threw their weight behind Drahos, helping him to pull ahead.

A poll for the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes showed 47 percent of voters backed Drahos while 43 per cent supported Zeman.

It is the remaining 10 per cent of undecided respondents who actually vote who will be the decisive force in the election, which is seen by many as a choice between two futures for the country; between the pro-western liberalism of the sober-mannered Drahos and the blunt, anti-immigration, pro-Russian populism of Zeman.

Online criticism of Drahos has left the 68-year-old academic complaining of “low blows” and hinting at interference from Moscow to help Zeman, who was the country’s prime minister from 1998 to 2002.

Drahos, who finished the first round of the race with 26.6 per cent of the vote is running on a moderate centrist platform, and is generally pro-European and supportive of Nato. In recent days he says he says he has been falsely alleged to be a child sex offender; that his campaign is funded from abroad by a “globalist” elite and that he was a collaborator with the secret police during the country’s communist era.

Dravos says he has an officially approved certificate clearing him of the latter claim.

Potentially most damaging for Drahos’ electoral chances are the allegations from Zeman and his supporters linking him to support for immigration – a controversial accusation in a country where there is much suspicion of immigrants.

Adverts funded by a group called Friends of Milos Zeman read: “Stop immigrants and Drahos! This country is ours.”

Though Drahos has distanced himself from the more extreme postures adopted by Zeman, the advert is at odds with his public opposition to the EU’s migrant quota relocation scheme.

The intense atmosphere is at odds with the status of the presidency in the Czech Republic, which is mostly ceremonial.

However, due to the current uncertainty over the future of the government led by prime minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman facing fraud charges, whoever wins the presidency could have a decisive influence on the direction of the country.

Babis faces prosecution for allegedly fraudulently obtaining EU funds for one of his businesses.

Zeman has said he will reappoint Babis whatever the result of the election on March 8.

Meanwhile Drahos, co-author of 14 patents and winner of the country’s medal of merit for his scientific work, says the prime minister should not be someone facing criminal charges.

Kremlin Watch, run by the Prague-based thinktank European Values says more than 30 websites it says share an ideological stance with Vladimir Putin have been making allegations against Drahos.