The retired NATO general, Peter Paulbeat the billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis in the presidential election ballot. According to the provisional results of the Statistics Office, Pavel, a former paratrooper, obtained 57.6 against Babis’ 42.4% with just over 80% of the votes counted.
“The candidate of civil society and the democratic values he represents won”, said the Czech prime minister Peter Fiala according to which it is the third defeat of Andrej Babis and his populist movement, after the 2021 parliamentary and regional elections. His defeat is due to “the most disgusting of his campaigns, in which he combined populism with extremism”. “I am happy that the candidate who aims to unite opinions and calm conflicts has won,” added Fiala.
In the Czech Republic the runoff between the populist billionaire Babis and the pro-NATO general Pavel (who has denied being dead)
by Daniele Castellani Perelli
Pavel succeeds the president Milos Zemancontroversial politician, whom he had had close ties with Mosca before changing course by condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “crime”. A former paratrooper and a 61-year-old retired general, Pavel was leading opinion polls ahead of the vote. Voter turnout was 70%, in the wake of a bitter campaign marred by controversy, including over Ukraine. Pavel had already beaten Babis in the first round of the presidential elections two weeks ago, obtaining 35.4% of the votes against 35% of his rival. The electoral campaign between the two rounds was bitter, with a wave of disinformation largely targeting Pavel and death threats reaching Babis and his family.
Billionaire Babis has tried to woo voters concerned about the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by suggesting that his opponent could drag the country into war. The populist tycoon had promised that as president he would not send Czech troops to support Poland or the Baltic states as part of NATO’s collective defense; a position that raised questions abroad and on which he then had to take a step back.
Although his role is essentially ceremonial in the Czech Republic, the head of state appoints the government, chooses the central bank governor and constitutional court judges, and has supreme command of the armed forces. Pavel will be the Czech Republic’s fourth president since it became an independent state after the peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after Czechoslovakia fell out of Moscow’s orbit.
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The two candidates had been members of the Communist Party in the 1980s, when Czechoslovakia was under the USSR umbrella. But the former elite paratrooper has since become an ardent defender of his country’s membership of the European Union and NATO. “The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and a full member (of the EU and NATO, ed) so we cannot just sit in silence, nod and criticize the results. We must be more active and, at the same time, constructive” Pavel said.
He promised to be an independent president, unaffected by party politics, to continue supporting aid to war-stricken Ukraine and to support Kiev’s bid for EU membership. Pavel also advocated for same-sex marriages and adoption of children by gay couples.