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Retired general wins Czech election

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-31 07:01

FILE PHOTO: Czech presidential candidate Petr Pavel reacts at his headquarters, after the results of the country's presidential election were announced, in Prague, Czech Republic January 28, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Retired general Petr Pavel has won the Czech Republic's presidential election, defeating his rival Andrej Babis.

The 61-year-old secured victory by a margin of 58.3 to 41.7 percent, gaining 958,000 extra votes across the country on Saturday.

Pavel served as head of the NATO Military Committee. He was endorsed by the current ruling government coalition. Babis, 68, head of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens party, served as prime minister from 2017 to 2021.

The role of the president is largely ceremonial, but has influence in major areas such as appointing the head of the country's central bank and involvement in foreign policy, which will be particularly important given Pavel's NATO background and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

The president of the Czech Republic is chosen in a direct election and serves a term of five years. The mandate can be held for a maximum of two consecutive terms. Incumbent President Milos Zeman's term concludes in March.

Pavel is in favor of the Czech Republic adopting the euro as its currency, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed his win, saying Berlin would work with him "hand in hand for a stronger European Union and NATO".

Jiri Pehe, a political analyst at New York University Prague, told Agence France-Presse that Pavel was "very much in favor of Ukraine", repeatedly voicing his support.

"His stance will entail strong support to Ukraine without any conditions," Pehe said.

Pavel Havlicek, a scientist at the Association for International Affairs in Prague, told the France 24 news site that the new president will be in his element when it comes to foreign policy.

In his victory speech, Pavel thanked "those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honored democracy and cared about this country".

He criticized the damaging effect of the political style that has recently prevailed.

In the buildup to the runoff between the last two candidates, Prime Minister Petr Fiala called it a battle between "democracy, respect for the constitution and a pro-Western orientation against populism, lies and leaning toward Russia".

The result is a second high-profile defeat for Babis, who rose to power by promising to "run the country like a business", but has now been rejected by the electorate.

Pavel's election brings to an end a bad-tempered campaign that saw a fake version of his own campaign website circulate rumors that he had died shortly before polling began, while Babis canceled personal appearances over reported death threats.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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