Andrej Babis and Petr Pavel will face off in the second round

Retired general Petr Pavel came out on top in the first round of the Czech presidential election this Saturday, January 14, ahead of billionaire Andrej Babis by a few thousand votes, who wants to assert his experience in politics after several years at the head of the government.

With our correspondent in Prague, Alexis Rosenzweig

Petr Pavelformer chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, won 35.4% of the vote, just ahead of Andrej Babis (35%), ex-Prime Minister accused of being a populist, after counting 99.9% of the vote.

The retired general highlighted his service in the army during the campaign, in particular his participation in the rescue of around fifty French soldiers in the former Yugoslavia. For his part, Andrej Babis refused, with some exceptions, to participate in the televised debates and wanted to show his experience on the international scene, in particular by highlighting his meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron. He criticizes the government’s inefficiency in fighting inflation and other economic consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Both in their sixties, the candidates also have in common their membership of the elite of the communist regime before its fall in 1989.

Czech presidential candidates Andrej Babis (left) and Petr Pavel (right) in January 2023.

A second round that promises to be tight

The campaign for the second round promises to be tough, with a former head of government who has the means to match his ambitions. Andrej Babis is the country’s fifth-richest man and the agro-industrial group he founded also has a media arm. He enjoys the support of outgoing President Milos Zeman, while Petr Pavel has already received that of the majority of eliminated candidates – including Danuse Nerudova (third with 13.92% of the vote) – and of the current centre-right government.

Every voice will matter “, already announces the retired general Petr Pavel after his very narrow victory in the first round against the former Prime Minister. Polling institutes credit Petr Pavel with a slight lead over Andrej Babis in the second round, which is due to take place in two weeks, on January 27 and 28. Mathematically, he is the favorite of the second round in two weeks, but Andrej Babis has already set the tone for the next few days by attacking this career soldier on his past.

The future president should not be a communist spy trained by the KGB. Only Russia has such a president and it is Mr. Putin “, Hammered Andrej Babis, who nevertheless himself has a lot to do to justify his past as an apparatchik and his agent file in the archives of the communist police (StB).

A president with limited powers

As in previous elections, the Czech electorate is divided between economically disadvantaged regions – where Andrej Babis garners very good scores – and Prague and the country’s big cities, which placed Petr Pavel well ahead.

The powers of the Head of State are above all ceremonial in the Czech Republic, but certain prerogatives such as the appointment of members of the Constitutional Court or of the central bank can give the President a certain power vis-à-vis the government.

The current government coalition, which supports General Pavel, is under fire from MP Babis, who denounces its management of the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine.