PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Former Czech army chief Petr Pavel, a strongly pro-Western candidate who backs aid for Ukraine, was on course to win the Czech Republic’s presidential election as voting results came in on Saturday, January 28.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala congratulated Pavel on securing victory after results from 87.9% of the country’s voting districts had him leading the vote count with 56.9% to his rival Andrej Babis’s 43.1%, according to the Czech Statistical Office.
Full results from the two-day run-off vote were expected later on Saturday.
A projection by news website www.seznamzpravy.cz showed Pavel beating former prime minister Babis with between 57.9% and 58.5% of the vote, while broadcaster CNN Prima News, using voting models from agencies STEM and STEM/MARK, also projected Pavel winning more than 58%.
Pavel, a 61-year-old retired general running for office for the first time, had campaigned as an independent and gained the backing of the center-right government, which ousted Babis from power in a 2021 parliamentary election.
Babis, 68, a combative business magnate, had sought to attract voters struggling with soaring prices by vowing to push the government to do more to help them.
A dominant force in Czech politics for the past decade and leader of parliament’s biggest opposition party, Babis had also called the election a referendum on him.
Pavel faced a strong chance of keeping his election lead, with larger, urban voting districts which are likely to favor him still to report.
Campaign workers for Pavel were already popping champagne at his election base in Prague where hundreds of journalists and guests were gathered and shouts of “president!” were heard.
Czech presidents do not have many day-to-day duties but they pick prime ministers and central bank heads, have a say in foreign policy, are powerful opinion makers, and can push the government on policies.
Pavel has backed keeping the central European country of 10.5 million firmly in the European Union and NATO military alliance, and supports the government’s continued aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year.
He is a backer of adopting the euro, a topic that successive governments have kept on the back burner, and supports gay marriage and other progressive policies.
A career soldier, Pavel joined the army in Communist times, was decorated with a French military cross for valor during peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and later rose to lead the Czech general staff and become chairman of NATO’s military committee for three years before retiring in 2018.
“I voted for Mr. Pavel because he is a decent and reasonable man and I think that the young generation has a future with him,” said Abdulai Diop, 60, after voting in Prague on Saturday.
Babis attacked Pavel for being the government’s candidate.
He campaigned on fears of the war in Ukraine spreading, and sought to offer to broker peace talks while suggesting Pavel, as a former soldier, could drag the Czechs into a war, a claim Pavel has rejected.
Babis also had the support of outgoing President Milos Zeman, a divisive figure over his 10 years in office who pushed for closer ties with Beijing and – until Russia invaded Ukraine – with Moscow, as well as fringe forces including the pro-Russian Communist Party. – Rappler.com
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