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 58.32% of the vote, results released by the state statistics 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 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.

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.

The disinformation was con­demned by Mr Babis, who a few days ago cancelled all remaining in-person campaign appearances over fears for his personal safety after receiving an anonymous death threat.

Speaking after the announce­ment of the results on Saturday, Mr Pavel said values such as truth, dignity, respect and humili­ty had won.

“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 Mr Pavel, a firm advo­cate of Czech membership of Nato and the EU, has often in­voked the spirit of Vaclav Havel, the playwright, dissident and first president of the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution against communist rule.

And his victory will be seen as an affirmation his country is firmly rooted in the West.

In congratulating Mr Pavel, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said she welcomed his “strong commit­ment to our European values”.

Other world leaders, including Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Kosovo’s president, Vjosa Osmani, have also taken to social media to congratulate the newly elected president. —BBC

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