General Petr Pavel, former head of NATO’s military committee and supporter of military aid to Ukraine, was elected Saturday, January 28, to the presidency of the Czech Republic, beating the former prime minister and billionaire Andrej Babis to take over from Milos Zeman, who had had ambiguous ties to Moscow.
Whoever was leading in the opinion polls before the vote won the second round of the election with 58.25% of the vote against 41.75% for Mr. Babis, after counting 99.74% of the ballots. Turnout in the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country of 10.5 million people was 70.3% following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy, including on Ukraine.
“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 that they honor democracy and care about the country.said Mr. Pavel. I see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have won in this election. »
The campaign between the two rounds was bitter, with a wave of misinformation that largely targeted Mr. Pavel, and death threats that targeted Mr. Babis and his family. Incumbent President Milos Zeman, a controversial politician, had close ties with Russia before turning around when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Andrej Babis, 68, whose wealth and legal worries have made him a divisive figure, called the vote a “referendum on Babis”. The billionaire has sought to woo voters worried about the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hinting that his opponent could drag the country into that war. The populist MP also said he would not send Czech troops to help Poland or the Baltics as part of NATO’s collective defense – a statement that raised questions abroad, and which he immediately returned to.
Although his role is essentially ceremonial in the Czech Republic, the head of state composes the government, chooses the governor of the central bank, the constitutional judges, and ensures the supreme command of the armed forces.
Former paratrooper and hero of the war in the former Yugoslavia
Former elite paratrooper Petr Pavel will be the Czech Republic’s fourth president since it became an independent state after a peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after Czechoslovakia abandoned its totalitarian communist regime, exiting from Moscow’s orbit. His predecessors were Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident playwright who ruled the country from 1993-2003, economist Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) and Milos Zeman, whose last term expires in March.
At 61, Mr. Pavel is a hero of the war in the former Yugoslavia during which he notably helped to free French soldiers. He then became Chief of the Czech General Staff, and from 2015 to 2018 held the post of Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the highest post of military official in the Atlantic Alliance.
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The two rivals had been members of the Communist Party in the 1980s, when Czechoslovakia was under Moscow’s tutelage. But the neatly trimmed, white-haired former paratrooper has since become a strong advocate for his country’s EU and NATO membership.
He vowed to be an independent president, uninfluenced by party politics, to continue supporting aid to war-torn Ukraine and to support kyiv’s bid to join the EU. “Naturally, Ukraine must first meet all the conditions to become a member, such as progress in the fight against corruption. But I think she has the right to have the same chances that we had in the past.”, did he declare. Mr. Pavel has also supported same-sex marriages and child adoptions by same-sex couples.