War hero Petr Pavel elected as Czech president - RTHK
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War hero Petr Pavel elected as Czech president

2023-01-28 HKT 23:26
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  • With over 85 percent of the vote counted, Pavel had won 56.76 percent. Photo: AFP
    With over 85 percent of the vote counted, Pavel had won 56.76 percent. Photo: AFP
Retired Nato general Petr Pavel beat billionaire former Czech prime minister Andrej Babis in a presidential election run-off Saturday, interim results showed.

Pavel, a former paratrooper, won 56.76 percent of votes, while Babis scored 43.23 percent, with over 85 percent of the vote counted, according to the Czech Statistical Office.

Turnout in the EU and Nato member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high, at 70 percent, following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy, death threats and a brazen hoax.

The 61-year-old Pavel will replace President Milos Zeman, an outspoken politician who fostered close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn when Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine last year.

Pavel already beat Babis in the first round two weeks ago, scoring 35.4 percent against 35 percent for the former prime minister.

Since then, Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead as disinformation plagued the final campaign.

While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, picks the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and serves as commander of the armed forces.

Pavel will be the fourth president of the Czech Republic since it emerged as an independent state after a peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after Czechoslovakia shed four-decades of totalitarian communist rule.

His predecessors were Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident playwright who led the country from 1993-2003, economist Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) and Zeman, whose final term expires in March.

A graduate of a military university, Pavel was decorated as a hero in the Serbo-Croatian war when he helped free French troops from a war zone.

He rose to chief of the Czech general staff and chair of NATO's military committee.

Like Babis, Pavel was a member of the Communist Party in the 1980s.

But, the man with a carefully trimmed beard and white hair, who has a passion for powerful motorbikes, has since become a strong advocate of EU and Nato membership.

"We have no better alternative. We should use all opportunities offered by membership and try to change that which we don't like," he said on his campaign website.

"Czechia is a sovereign state and a full member, therefore we can't just sit quietly, nod and then slam the result. We have to be more active and, at the same time, constructive." (AFP)

War hero Petr Pavel elected as Czech president