A retired general, 61-year-old Petr Pavel, who previously headed the NATO military committee, was elected the new president of the Czech Republic in the second round of elections. His victory draws a line under the ten-year rule of Milos Zeman, who has been repeatedly accused of pro-Russian and pro-Chinese views, as well as of exceeding constitutional powers. By the way, many considered Pavel’s rival, former Prime Minister Andriy Babish, to continue Zeman’s course. Although he was never seen to be openly sympathetic to the Russian Federation, he was much more restrained in the issue of helping Ukraine. Pavel’s victory guarantees that the government and the president of the Czech Republic will no longer have disagreements on issues of supporting Kyiv and confronting Moscow, experts say.
War and Peace
If on the eve of the first round of the presidential elections in the Czech Republic (they were held on January 13-14) it was difficult to name the most likely winner of the race, then by the second it became clear that ex-chairman of the NATO military committee Petr Pavel will almost certainly become the new president. Even despite the fact that his lead over his closest competitor, ex-Prime Minister Andriy Babish – amounted to less than 1%, in the second round, polls promised him a resounding victory.
And so it happened. According to official data, after all the votes were counted, Pavel secured the support of 58% of voters – against 42% cast for Babis. This demonstrated his advantage over his rival in more than 958 thousand votes across the country, which was the largest number ever recorded in the Czech presidential election. However, for the first time, direct presidential elections in the Czech Republic took place only in 2013 – they, like in 2018, were won by Milos Zeman. Prior to this, the head of state was elected by parliament.
In part, Petr Pavel was helped by the support of several candidates who lost in the first round, as well as by winning over young voters through promises of liberal social policies, including support for same-sex marriage. Unsurprisingly, Pavel’s supporters hailed the election result as a victory for liberal democracy over the oligarchic populism they believe Babiš represents.
During the last stage of the election campaign, Petr Pavel described the second round of elections as “a clash of two worlds.” As he wrote on his social networks, it is he who opposes everything that Babiš and his supporter, outgoing President Milos Zeman, represent – “a world of chaos, inability to solve problems, personal gain and behind-the-scenes influences.”
Babiš, who served as prime minister of the Czech Republic from 2017-2021, is a billionaire businessman. He was suspected of financial fraud, but a few days before the start of the elections, the court dropped all charges against him. In addition, Babiš’s strained relationship with the head of government, Piotr Fiala, who openly campaigned to vote for Petar Pavel, was not a secret.
Against this background, many in the country were sure that if Babis came to power, he would inevitably begin to put pressure on the cabinet of ministers and the prime minister, which Milos Zeman has sinned more than once over the past ten years. And this despite the fact that, according to the constitution, the president is assigned only representative functions, and the real executive power belongs to the prime minister.
There was something to reproach the opponent and Andrei Babisha. In particular, he has repeatedly stated that Pavel is leading the Czech Republic to a war between NATO and Russia, while he himself wants peace, not war, and “in no case did he send our children or the children of our women to war.” However, the pacifist message went sideways to the ex-premier: during the next televised debate, he said that the Czech Republic should not send its troops to help Poland and other Baltic countries in the event of some kind of “Russian invasion”.
Later, he tried to say that he simply did not want the conflict in Ukraine to escalate into a world war. But in the camp of opponents, these words were interpreted as an attempt by the presidential candidate to question Article 5 of the NATO charter, which states that an attack on one of the members of the alliance is considered an attack on all its members.
In addition to mutual reproaches, the current campaign, no doubt, was also remembered for a loud fake. A few days before the vote, rumors about his death began to spread on social networks on behalf of the press secretary of Petr Pavel. The politician himself had to prove that he was more alive than all the living. “Yes, I am alive. I never imagined that I would be forced to write this online,” the current winner noted on January 26.
By the way, this time Babish also met with an opponent. He noted that he was “horrified that someone has come to something like this.” The ex-premier expressed support for his rival in connection with the spread of false information, saying that he himself was threatened with death.
Don’t wait for hello
In general, Babis’s policy towards the Russian Federation was probably dictated by considerations of marketing, political convenience and, possibly, economic interests, Jan Missler, professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, noted in an interview with Izvestia.
“The playing of the “war and peace” card by him and his team before the second round and the portrayal of Pavel as a figure that will push the Czech Republic into a direct military conflict with Russia led to the opposite results,” the Czech expert believes.
The policy of the winning candidate towards Moscow will obviously be much more understandable. According to Jan Missler, the president will certainly change the course of Milos Zeman and will not follow the “compliant approach” that distinguishes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“Peter Pavel cannot be expected to show sympathy for Russia or go to peace efforts that would be in any way favorable to Russia. It is likely that, as president, he will coordinate steps in the foreign policy sphere with the government of Petr Fiala and support Ukraine, the expert noted.
As for Andrei Babiš, he will not leave the country’s politics after the defeat in the elections — the former prime minister remains the founder of the opposition party ANO, which he promised to lead in the parliamentary elections in 2025.
However, according to most Czech political scientists, the loss of Babis, coupled with the defeat of his party in the elections in the fall of 2021, suggests that most voters would prefer to leave him a part of history.