Retired Czech army general Pavel wins presidential election


PRAGUE – Petr Pavel, a retired army general, decisively defeated populist billionaire Andrej Babis in a runoff election on Saturday to become the Czech Republic’s new president.

Pavel, 61, will succeed Milos Zeman in the largely ceremonial but prestigious post. His election is intended to consolidate the country’s western orientation after Zeman’s ten-year tenure.

After counting all the ballots by the Czech Statistical Office, Pavel had 58.3% of the votes, compared to 42.7% for Babis. Turnout was just over 70%, a record high for a presidential election.

“We can have different views on a number of issues, but that doesn’t mean we’re enemies,” Pavel said in a message to voters who cast their ballots for Babis after what was seen as an ugly presidential campaign. “We have to learn to communicate with each other.”

Babis conceded defeat and congratulated Pavel on his victory. He urged his supporters to “accept that I lost and accept that we have a new president.”

Pavel, who ran as an independent, is a former chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, the alliance’s highest military body. He fully supports the Czech Republic’s military and humanitarian support to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion and emphasizes the importance of the country’s membership of the European Union and NATO.

“Foreign policy is his forte,” said Petr Just, an analyst from the Metropolitan University Prague. I only noted that Pavel’s NATO experience and views would “strengthen” the country’s Western leanings.

The president elects the prime minister by universal suffrage, one of the main functions of the office, and appoints the members of the central bank. The incumbent also selects the judges of the Constitutional Court with the approval of the Upper House of Parliament.

Otherwise, the President has little executive power as the Czech Republic is governed by a government elected and headed by the Prime Minister.

President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, who defeated incumbent politicians to win her country’s 2019 presidential election, joined Pavel on a Prague stage on Saturday to congratulate him in front of his supporters.

“Your victory is a victory of hope, the hope that decency and honesty are not weaknesses, but a force that could also lead to victory in politics,” said Caputova.

“Personally, I am pleased that we have a new head of state in our region and in Europe who respects democratic values,” she said.

Pavel said he plans to travel to Slovakia and Ukraine for his first foreign trips as president, and also to Poland to reassure President Andrzej Duda that his country is fully respecting its NATO commitments and the alliance’s principle of collective defense respected.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Pavel in a tweet written in Czech, adding that he looked forward to their close cooperation.

The Czech Republic is a firm supporter of Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. The Ukraine war was a central campaign issue. Babis presented himself as a peacemaker and called Pavel a warmonger because of his military past.

In his most controversial statement, Babis said he would not send troops to Poland or the Baltics if NATO allies were attacked. He later rowed back.

Losing the race to Pavel was another heavy loss for Babis 68, a former prime minister. His centrist ANO (JA) movement ended up in opposition after losing the 2021 general election.

Zeman, the outgoing president, had supported Babis, one of the richest people in the country. The two men share Eurosceptic views and a habit of using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

While Babis was a divisive figure, he retained popular support among older voters. He accused Pavel of being a KGB-trained communist spy during a campaign marred by false accusations. He offered no evidence to support the claim and went on to compare his opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zeman, who took office in March 2013, was the country’s first president elected by popular vote. His second and final five-year term expires in March. The legislature elected the two previous presidents Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.

Before invading Ukraine in February 2022, Zeman divided the nation with his pro-Russian stance and support for closer ties with China.


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