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Czech Republic secures pro-Western direction with victory of ex-NATO general | Election News

Prague, Czech Republic – Former NATO Commander-in-Chief Petr Pavel becomes the fourth president of this central European country after winning a hard-fought election.

Hours after voting closed on Saturday, Pavel was declared the winner of the second round runoff vote. Preliminary results showed that he had won 58.3% of his two-horse races.

His impressive margin of victory over former Prime Minister Andrei Babis suggests that support for liberal democracy has surged after years of populist dominance.

It was also among his supporters that war in ukrainethe Czech Republic was now consolidating its position in the Western mainstream.

Pavel, 61, will replace Milos Zeman, an outspoken populist accused of contributing to the polarization of the country’s political landscape. Zeman’s second and final term under constitutional restrictions expires on his March 8th.

After declaring victory, Pavel said: pledged He will try to heal the cracks in Czech society.

“We don’t see voters winning or losing in this country,” he said. “Truth, dignity, respect, humility and other values ​​have won. I am ready to return these values ​​in my service, not only to the castle, but also to our republic.”

Czech Republic president-elect Petr Pavel and wife Eva address supporters after the announcement of provisional results on Saturday. [Petr David Josek/AP]

The Czech presidency is primarily a ceremonial role. But Zeman has spent the last decade. test the boundaries This includes formal appointments to governments, constitutional courts and central banks.

Frankly, he has disrupted foreign policy by promoting closer ties with Russia and China, directly contradicting the government’s official position that membership in the European Union and NATO is an important foundation. ing.

The centre-right government, led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, did not directly support Pavel, fearing that anger over the cost of living crisis could hurt his campaign. However, his independent victory was warmly welcomed.

Marketa Pekarova Adamova, speaker of parliament and leader of the Top 09 coalition, told Al Jazeera that the president-elect’s “basic values ​​and goals are aligned with those of the government.”


A bit of a lumberjack, but a dignified, square-jawed ex-military man was a strong candidate. But Pavel’s margin of victory was also dictated by the votes cast for his opponents.

After Babis, 68, and Pavel qualified for the run-off vote in the first round of voting on 14 January, several of the six defeated candidates endorsed the former general to their supporters. urged to do so.

Babis, a populist billionaire plagued by corruption scandals during his time as prime minister, has long accused the country’s liberal democratic forces of running an “anti-Babis” coalition.Similar cooperation by centrist and center-right parties It was erased He will step down as prime minister in October 2021.

However, Babis’ ANO party remained the largest party in parliament, thanks largely to major support drawn from an older, rural and poorer cohort. As such, many fear that Mr. Bavis’ blend of economic, political and media power (he owns several newspapers and a radio station) represents a danger to democracy. I was.

In the shadow of Russia’s vicious war in Ukraine, his approach to foreign policy also surprised many. He was no friend of Russia or Beijing, but he was a bargaining politician who lacked ideological underpinnings.

As such, he was able to turn his guns on the government’s support for Ukraine during the campaign, trying to add the votes of divided dissident voters to his core support.

Babis, who branded Pavel a “warmonger” who wanted the Czechs to go to the front, parroted the Kremlin story while declaring himself a “peace advocate.”

While that may have fostered additional support, it also appears to have helped mobilize liberal voters, and the billionaire presidential chair may not complicate relations with EU and NATO partners. It deepened their concern that

Election turnout was around 70%, the highest since direct presidential elections began in 2013.

“Babis’ campaign crossed all boundaries and helped mobilize the opposition,” said Otto Aibl, head of the political department at Masaryk University in Brno. “He turned the election into a referendum on himself and his political style. And he lost.”

take a walk

Many thought Pavel was more likely to maintain the dignity of the presidency than his rival, known for his emotional outbursts.

Jiri Pehe, political analyst and former adviser to Václav Havel, a playwright and communist-era dissident who was head of state for ten years after the creation of the Czech Republic in 1993, said this is important for Czechs. suggested that it was.

Despite the performances of Zeman and his fiercely euroskeptic predecessor Wenceslas Klaus, Pehe said the presidency remains a highly symbolic post that demands a politician’s spirit.

Pavel, a sharp critic of Zeman and Babis, said he wanted to put an end to populist politics.

“The main question is whether chaos and populism will continue to hold back, or whether we will return to following the rules.”

On economic and social issues, the president-elect maintained a conservative but liberal policy. He stressed the importance of financial balance while warning that the weakest in society should not be forgotten. He also supported the EU’s Green Deal and the Czech introduction of the euro.

“Pavel is showing leadership and it is hoped that he will help calm the political situation in the Czech Republic,” Ibl said.

“Moderate Political Views”

The former general lacked political experience, but served on peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, served as Chief of the Czech Armed Forces, and chaired NATO’s Military Commission from 2015 to 2018, where he was involved in negotiations and international relations. was familiar with the format of

During his campaign, he urged the Czech public to trust his military experience as the war raged in the east. At the same time, he was forced to defend himself amid revelations that he had been trained as a spy during the communist era.

“Given his limited political experience and modest political views, Pavel is unlikely to push the post’s constitutional boundaries as Milos Zeman did,” said risk consultants Teneo International. predicted Andrius Tulsa.

Rather, Pavel was expected to firmly support Fiala’s efforts to lure the country back into the Western mainstream following the turmoil spread by Zeman and Babis.

“Petr Pavel’s presidency should help the government implement its domestic and foreign policy priorities,” Adamova said. “I am also confident that he will do his best to improve our country’s image abroad.”

A Russian-Chinese hawk, Pavel is an avid supporter of Prague’s support for Kyiv and has backed efforts to anchor the country more firmly in the EU and NATO.

“Czech diplomacy has completely halted operations between East and West,” said Adamova. “We belong to a community of democracies and must act accordingly.”

Voters’ decision to swap errant Zeman for a former general, as when Fiala replaced Babis as prime minister, “would be welcomed by the country’s NATO and EU partners,” he said, remaining anonymous. suggested a senior Western diplomat based in Prague who asked to be

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/29/czechia-cements-west-direction-as-former-nato-general-wins Czech Republic secures pro-Western direction with victory of ex-NATO general | Election News

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