Pavel and Babiš in face-off for Czech presidency after tight first round
The next president of Czechia will be either Petr Pavel or Andrej Babiš. The ex-head of the Czech Army will go into a second-round run-off against the billionaire ex-PM and ANO chairman in a fortnight’s time.
Mr. Babiš had been in the lead through much of Saturday afternoon’s vote count, before Mr. Pavel rather dramatically overtook him with the counting of the very last districts in the country, eventually narrowly beating him, with 35.40 percent ahead of Mr. Babiš’s 34.99 percent.
The result rather corresponded to the pre-election polls, which on the final straight suggested Mr. Babiš and Mr. Pavel would take the first two places in the first round, ahead of the other perceived frontrunner, economist Danuše Nerudová, who came third.
Mrs. Nerudová was the big loser in the first round: Some polls had actually put her coming first, but in the end she received just 13.93 percent.
Acknowledging her defeat, Mrs. Nerudová used the word “evil” in reference to Mr. Babiš but stopped just short of endorsing Mr. Pavel.
Other defeated candidates Pavel Fischer and Marek Hilšer were quick to announce their backing for the ex-career soldier.
A number of opinion polls conducted prior to the elections suggested that Mr. Pavel was likely to beat Mr. Babiš in a second round head-to-head.
Another good sign for the former army man is that in previous direct elections the winner of the first round later became head of state.
In a possible sign of things to come in the next fortnight, in a news conference Mr. Babiš brought up allegations that Mr. Pavel had trained in military intelligence under communism, comparing him to Vladimir Putin. He also said he himself expected to be the target of a dirty tricks campaign, including doctored photos and links to the KGB.
As expected, there was a large gap between the three leading candidates and the rest of the field.
Christian Democratic Party Senator Pavel Fischer came fourth on 6.75 percent; Jaroslav Bašta of Tomio Okamura’s Freedom and Direct Democracy got 4.46 percent; independent senator Marek Hilšer was on 2.56 percent; entrepreneur Karel Diviš received 1.35 percent; and academic Tomáš Zima came last with 0.55 percent.
Retired army general, Petr Pavel, has been elected the next president of Czechia. He will be sworn in on March 9.