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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Petr Pavel: Ex-general beats populist rival in Czech election


Retired Nato general Petr Pavel has been elected as the new president of the Czech Republic, seeing off his populist challenger Andrej Babis.

The 61-year-old took 57.6% of the vote, initial results released by the state statistic office showed.

Mr Babis – who served as prime minister between 2017 and 2021 – conceded defeat in a speech to supporters soon after the results were announced.

The ex-general will replace Milos Zeman, whose second term ends in March.

The second-round runoff between former Mr Babis and Mr Pavel was portrayed as a contest between populist oligarchy and liberal democracy.

The elections’ results follow an ill-tempered campaign marred by alleged death threats and disinformation.

Czech presidential candidates Petr Pavel (L) and Andrej Babis attend a televised debate ahead of the election run-off


Earlier this week Mr Pavel was forced to take to Twitter to deny rumours of his own death, circulated by a fake website and emails hosted by Russia’s Yandex server.

But as the results came in on Saturday afternoon it was clear both he and his campaign was very much alive and kicking. Within an hour and a half it was all over.

“This result was a victory for the values of truth, dignity, respect and humility,” he told supporters at his election headquarters.

“The vast majority of Czechs share these values, and it’s time to return them to the castle and to politics,” he added.

There were thunderous chants of “Pavel na Hrad” (Pavel to the Castle) – a deliberate echo of the chants of “Havel na Hrad” that filled the streets and squares of Czechoslovakia in November 1989.

Indeed Pavel, a firm advocate of Czech membership of NATO and the EU, has often invoked the spirit of Vaclav Havel.

And his victory will be seen as an affirmation of the country’s increasing shift towards the West.

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