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PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Former prime minister Andrej Babis took the lead in the first round of the Czech presidential election on Saturday ahead of a retired general who served in a high NATO post, partial results showed.
The post does not carry executive authority but has significant powers in appointing prime ministers, central bank chiefs, and nominating judges for the constitutional court. Presidents also have a limited say in foreign affairs and are chief army commanders.
Results from 48.4% of the voting districts showed Babis would win 38.2%, ahead of retired general Petr Pavel with 32.4%.
However, a prediction of full results by STEM and STEM/MARK agencies for CNN Prima NEWS television put Babis at 35.2%, just a whisker ahead of Pavel at 34.6%, taking into account larger urban districts yet to be counted.
A result under 50% for the first finisher means the two top candidates would face each other in a run-off in two weeks.
Both Pavel, former general staff chief and NATO military committee chairman, and opposition leader Babis who was prime minister in 2017-2021, would likely be more pro-Western than the retiring incumbent Milos Zeman, who promoted tighter ties with China and, until the invasion of Ukraine last year, Russia.
Pavel, 61, is strongly pro-Western and supports further military aid for Ukraine as well as adoption of the euro.
Billionaire businessman Babis would be a smaller change as he shares Zeman’s warm relations with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who has been at odds with European Union partners over the rule of law.
Babis has also spoken against more Czech military aid for Ukraine. The current center-right government which decides that policy is among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters in the West.
Third in the partial results is economic professor Danuse Nerudova, with 13.7%, giving her little chance to overtake Pavel or Babis.
Tough second round for Babis
Pollsters and betting agencies give Pavel an edge over Babis in the likely second round as he is likely to attract more of the people voting for the six other candidates who will not make it past this first round.
“Today, when we have a war in Europe, I believe that the general will be the right man for the job,” said Jaroslava Kusickova, 89, at a Prague polling station on Saturday.
Pavel has been endorsed by the Cabinet, while Babis has framed the vote as a show of dissatisfaction with the government’s response to high inflation and energy prices.
Running with Zeman’s backing, Babis has pledged to put pressure on the Cabinet to provide more aid to households, and to bring checks on the coalition which has a majority in both houses in parliament. – Rappler.com