The Czechs have elected a former soldier to succeed Milos Zeman, a controversial politician who maintained close ties with Moscow until the invasion of Ukraine, at the helm of the country. After counting 90% of the votes in the second round of presidential elections, former elite paratrooper Petr Pavel is credited with 57.07% of the votes against former prime minister and billionaire Andrei Babis.
At Friday’s vote in the village of Cernoucek, the former NATO general said he wanted to be “a worthy president” of an EU member country of 10.5 million people. “I will not make empty promises, but I will describe reality as it is,” he added. In a tweet published on Saturday, Petr Pavel urged voters to “hurry up” and post his picture bungee jumping.
Petr Pavel, 61, is a hero of the war in former Yugoslavia, in which he notably helped liberate French soldiers. He then became chief of the Czech General Staff and the NATO Military Committee. The two rivals had been members of the Communist Party in the 1980s, when Czechoslovakia was under Moscow’s tutelage.
Andrej Babis, owner of agro-food, chemical and media group Agrofert, is the fifth Czech fortune according to Forbes magazine. His wealth and legal worries made him a divisive figure, and he dubbed the vote a “referendum on Babis.” Prime Minister from 2017 to 2021, he caused controversy last week when he declared he would not send Czech troops if other NATO member states, Poland or the Baltic States, were attacked. Remarks to which he returned but which provoked criticism in the region.
However, independent political scientist Jan Kubacek said the election will not lead to a change in Czech foreign policy, regardless of who wins. “The Czech Republic will remain pro-Western,” he declares. Although his role in the Czech Republic is essentially ceremonial, the head of state appoints the government, elects the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and assumes supreme command of the armed forces.