Czechs opt for pro-Ukraine ex-general president
Czechs have voted resoundingly for Petr Pavel, a former Nato commander, for the presidency over the populist Slovak-born former prime minister Andrej Babis.
Pavel secured 58.3 per cent of the vote over Babis’ 41.7 per cent in the Czech Republic’s largest margin of more than 958,000 votes in a presidential election.
The former soldier attracted younger voters with liberal social policies, including support for gay marriage, which is still outlawed.
Pro-western Pavel, 61, a former chief of staff and deputy Nato commander, called it a victory for “truth, dignity, respect and humility” and promised to unite the nation after a divisive campaign. “We have different views on many things but that doesn’t mean we are enemies,” he said. “We have to learn to communicate with each other.”
Centre-right Prime Minister Petr Fiala called the presidential election a battle between “democracy, respect for the constitution and a pro-western orientation against populism, lies and leaning towards Russia”.
The outgoing president Milos Zeman is an outspoken populist accused of encouraging polarisation. Zeman’s second term under constitutional limits ends on March 8.
The Czech presidency is supposed to be largely ceremonial but Zeman has spent 10 years testing boundaries through formal appointments to the government, constitutional court and central bank.
He stepped into foreign policy by pushing for closer links with Russia and China, undermining integration with Nato and the European Union.
Ahead of voting, Pavel was declared dead on a counterfeit version of his campaign website, sparking a police probe.
Billionaire Babiš, 68, called Pavel a warmonger for backing military aid to Ukraine. He also question Nato’s Article 5 collective security guarantee by saying he would never send Czech troops to Poland, a Nato member, if it was attacked by Russia.
He tried to capitalise on Pavel’s pre- 1989 Communist party membership despite his own well-documented role as an informer for the communist-era secret police and his support among current Czech communists.
Babis lost out in last year’s general election to current Prime Minister Petr Fiala, a former university rector — the archetypal establishment job — who led the mainstream Civic Democrats.
Petr Pavel. Picture credit: YouTube