Petr Pavel, a retired general and former senior Nato commander, has swept to the Czech presidency after a landslide victory over the former prime minister Andrej Babiš in an election overshadowed by rows over the war between Russia and Ukraine.
With nearly all the votes counted, returns showed Pavel prevailing by the emphatic margin of 58.3% to 41.68%, the largest ever recorded in a Czech presidential poll and reflecting an advantage of more than 958,000 votes nationwide.
Pavel’s supporters immediately hailed the result as a victory for liberal democracy over oligarchic populism, which they believe Babiš represents.
As the scale of his triumph became clear, Pavel, 61, a former army chief of staff and Nato second-in-command, was greeted by ecstatic chants of “president, president” from champagne-drinking supporters as he mounted the podium at his campaign headquarters in Prague’s Karlín district.
He called his win a victory for “truth, dignity, respect and humility” and vowed to seek national unity after an election campaign widely denounced as bitterly divisive. “We have different views on many things, but that doesn’t mean we are enemies,” said Pavel. “We have to learn to communicate with each other.”
In a highly symbolic moment, he then received the congratulations on stage of Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia’s president, who – like Pavel – has spoken out against populism and invoked the values of Václav Havel, the one-time dissident who was the first post-communist president of the former Czechoslovakia.
The outcome represented a personal vindication for the pro-western Pavel, who was forced to deny false eve-of-poll reports of his own death announced on a counterfeit version of his campaign website, sparking allegations of dirty tricks and a police investigation.
It also amounted to a humiliating rebuff for Slovak-born Babiš, 68, a billionaire tycoon who stood accused of running a shameless, scorched-earth campaign after portraying Pavel as a warmonger for his support of military aid to Ukraine. At one point, Babiš even appeared to question Nato’s collective security arrangements by saying he would never send Czech troops to Poland, a fellow member of the military alliance, if it was attacked by Russia. [Continue reading…]