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Pavel wins first round of Czech presidential election

January 14, 2023

Former NATO official Petr Pavel has accused opponent Andrej Babis of "populism." The two are set to square off in a runoff election in two weeks.

Czech presidential candidate Petr Pavel walks past reporters
Petr Pavel, who took first place in the first round of the presidential election, is set to square off against Andrej Babis in a runoff vote in two weeksImage: Petr David Josek/AP/picture alliance

Petr Pavel on Saturday came out ahead of Andrej Babis in the first round of the Czech presidential election.

A runoff vote will be held in two weeks.

Outgoing President Milos Zeman's second and final five-year term expires in March.

In the Czech Republic, the president can appoint prime ministers, central bank chiefs and nominate judges for the constitutional court, but does not have executive authority.

Who were the candidates?

Pavel won 35.4% with votes from 99.7% of districts counted. Babis received 35%. Coming in at a distant third was Danuse Nerudova.

Pavel is a former general staff chief and chairman of NATO's military committee. He supports increased military aid for Ukraine and for the adoption of the euro in the Czech Republic, which currently uses Czech crowns as its currency.

The former general has been endorsed by the center-right Cabinet under Prime Minister Petr Fiala. The Czech government is one of Kyiv's staunchest supporters in the West.

Babis is the owner of the Czech conglomerate Agrofert, which operates in the chemicals, farming and mass media sectors. He was prime minister between 2017 and 2021

His candidacy is supported by the outgoing president. Babis and Zeman have spoken out against increased military aid for Ukraine and have warm relations with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who has butted heads with Brussels over the rule of law.

In September, Babis was acquitted of EU subsidy fraud by a Czech court.

Babis pledges to pressure Cabinet

Babis, whose ANO party is the largest in parliament, has pledged to put pressure on the Cabinet to provide more aid to households in the face of inflation and high energy prices.

"Pavel would only execute the will of the government," Babis said after Czechs voted in the first round. "This asocial government wants to raise our taxes."

Meanwhile, Pavel criticized Babis as a populist after partial results were known.

"The danger is that we would start sliding not only toward populism but also start veering off the course we followed the past 30 years, clearly pro-democratic, pro-Western, pro-European," Pavel said.

Third-place candidate Nerudova pledged her support for Pavel following her defeat, calling Babis a "great evil."

"There is still a great evil here, and it is called Andrej Babis," she said.

sdi/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP)