Milos Zeman, a leftist former prime minister, has won the Czech Republic's first direct presidential election.

The 68-year-old Zeman, head of the Czech government from 1998 to 2002, garnered 54 percent of the vote for a comfortable victory over Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who received 45 percent of the ballots.

"I promise that as a president elected in a direct vote by citizens, I will do my best to be the voice of all citizens," Zeman said in his victory speech.

Schwarzenberg, for his part, accepted his defeat and acknowledged that the 10 percent margin was a clear difference.

Zeman's victory in the runoff balloting comes after a hard-fought campaign marked in the final days by Schwarzenberg's remarks that Czechs should not be proud of the expulsion of 3 million ethnic Germans from the country after World War II.

Zeman, a former Communist, harshly criticized Schwarzenberg's comments and argued that the decision to resettle German minority groups was an Allied-approved move to avoid social conflicts in post-war Europe.

Although the presidency is a largely ceremonial post in the Czech Republic, Zeman is expected to use it as a platform to improve relations with the European Union.

The current president, Vaclav Klaus, whom Zeman will succeed on March 8, is known for his Eurosceptic views. EFE