Retired gen’l, ex-P.M. advance to 2nd round in Czech presidential vote

Prague, Jan 14 (EFE).- Retired Gen. Petr Pavel and former Prime Babis will face each other in a runoff later this month to determine who will succeed Milos Zeman as president of the Czech Republic, election authorities said Saturday.

None of the eight candidates won the required 50 percent-plus-one to prevail in the first round.

With more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, Pavel, 61, leads billionaire Babis by 35.25 percent to 35.13 percent.

The only woman in the contest, economist Danuse Nerudova, was third with 13.9 percent amid turnout of 68.2 percent, up from 61 percent five years ago.

Around 8.4 million people were eligible to cast ballots Friday and Saturday.

While not invested with executive power, the Czech president appoints the prime minister and the head of central bank, nominates judges to the constitutional court and plays a limited role in foreign policy.

Zeman, the Czech Republic’s first popularly elected president, will step down in March at the end of a second five-year term.

His tenure has been marked by controversy over his closeness to the governments of China and Russia – though he distanced himself from Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine – and his outspoken views on subjects ranging from LGBTQ people to Islam.

An attempt in parliament to impeach Zeman in 2019 garnered fewer than half the votes needed.

Pavel, who was chief of the Czech army general staff and the first officer from Eastern Europe to chair the NATO Military Committee, is running for president on a promise to “return order and tranquility.”

He enjoys support from Spolu, the largest party in the center-right governing coalition.

“The danger is that we would start sliding not only toward populism but also start veering off the course we followed the past 30 years, clearly pro-democratic, pro-Western, pro-European,” Pavel said, referring to the threat of a Babis victory in the runoff.

Babis, 68, is backed by the party he founded, ANO, as well as by Zeman.

Usually described as populist, ANO – according to Babis – is “a right-wing party with social empathy.”

On Tuesday, Babis was cleared of fraud charges in connection with European Union subsidies received by his Agrofert conglomerate during his time as prime minister.

Pavel is seen as the favorite heading into the second round, as supporters of the other candidates are more likely to vote for him than for Babis.

Nerudova said Saturday that she would urge those who voted for her in the first round to back Pavel in the runoff. EFE gm-ll/dr

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