Thursday December 07, 2023

Retired Nato general Petr Pavel wins Czech presidential vote

January 29, 2023

PRAGUE: Retired Nato general Petr Pavel beat a billionaire former prime minister in an election run-off on Saturday to become the fourth president of the Czech Republic, official results showed.

Pavel, a former paratrooper, won 58 percent of votes while Andrej Babis scored 42 percent, with 99 percent of the vote counted, according to the Czech Statistical Office.

“I would like to thank those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honoured democracy and cared about this country,” Pavel said after the results showed his victory.

“I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have won in this election,” he added.

The 61-year-old Pavel will in March replace President Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive politician who fostered close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn when Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Turnout in the EU and Nato member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high at 70 percent following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy.

Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead as disinformation plagued the final campaign.

“Our community is somewhat hurt by the presidential campaign, by the multiple crises we have faced and are facing, but also by the political style that has recently prevailed here,” said Pavel.

“This has to change, and you have helped me to take the first step on the path towards this change.”

While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, picks the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and serves as commander of the armed forces.

Voting for Pavel in the small town of Dobrichovice southwest of Prague, Irena Cihelkova told AFP the new president should “be forthcoming and friendly, an asset for the country, and not make problems abroad like some other Czech statesmen”.

Pavel will be the fourth Czech president since the country´s independence following its peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after former Czechoslovakia shed four decades of totalitarian communist rule. His predecessors were Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident playwright who led the country from 1993-2003, economist Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) and Zeman.