Pavel wants to speak to Babiš voters – but doesn’t want his face on stamps
After a divisive and sometimes bitter campaign, Petr Pavel beat Andrej Babiš by a decisive margin in the Czech presidential elections at the weekend. The future head of state now says he intends to listen to voters across the political spectrum – but does not wish to appear on postage stamps.
Since his resounding victory, future head of state Petr Pavel has been giving dozens of interviews to the country’s major media outlets. On Sunday he told Czech Radio that his first task as president-elect will be to dispel the fears and rumours that were spread about him during the campaign.
“The idea that my being elected will mean the dawn of a new totalitarian regime, that it will move us closer to war, or that there will be no tolerance for those with different opinions – nothing of the sort is true. I want to make it clear that I am ready to listen to citizens, regardless of who they voted for in the presidential election.”
This means visiting the Karlovy Vary, Ústí nad Labem and Moravian-Silesian regions in particular, where support for his opponent, Andrej Babiš, was highest. Mr Pavel says he wants to make at least one or two trips to these parts of the country before his inauguration on March 9.
“I want to talk to the citizens of those regions that have perhaps been most affected by the crisis. About how they themselves perceive the effectiveness of government measures, where they see gaps and opportunities for improvement. So that I can work with these findings, put them together with experts, look at possible solutions, and then present them to the government.”
The former army general says that a number of other tasks have to be accomplished before his inauguration – the putting together of a presidential office team, negotiations with constitutional officials and the heads of political parties, and a programme outline for the first few months of his presidency, including trips abroad.
The Czech president’s first foreign visit is traditionally to Slovakia, and General Pavel says he will be no exception. Beyond that, he is also planning a trip to Poland and, together with Slovak president Zuzana Čaputová, to Ukraine. Another important focus will be the upcoming NATO summit later this year.
“Shortly after the inauguration, we will be in a period of very intensive preparation for the NATO summit in the summer. Especially with those of our neighbours with whom we share a proactive approach to supporting Ukraine, we should be absolutely clear about what positions we will support at the summit.”
Traditionally, the president was the one to represent the Czech Republic at UN and NATO summits, but in recent months the prime minister has had to take on this role due to the incumbent Miloš Zeman’s ill health. However, according to Mr Pavel, Prime Minister Petr Fiala has already said that he would welcome some of those duties being returned to the president’s remit, and Mr Pavel believes that the two of them will agree very quickly on the division of roles.
In terms of foreign policy, Mr Pavel says he places high importance on hiring skilled, qualified people to work in the presidential office, specifically in the foreign affairs department.
“I want them to be people who have undeniable professional experience and the qualifications to do this job well. At the same time, I would like the hiring to take place in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I think it is good if there is a direct link between the office of the president and the foreign ministry, which then ensures the coordination of foreign policy.”
This stands in contrast with outgoing president Miloš Zeman, who was often accused of conducting his own foreign policy that differed significantly from the government’s.
However, Mr Pavel may turn out to be a maverick president in other ways – he says he plans to live at home most of the time, rather than residing in the conventional presidential quarters at Prague Castle. And when it comes to the traditional portrait of the president that is displayed in schools and on postage stamps, General Pavel says that he doesn’t think it necessary and would even be in favour of not having it at all, preferring pictures of Czech castles, chateaux and landscapes on stamps to portraits of politicians.