Petr Pavel: The retired army general set to become Czechia’s next president
General Petr Pavel has been elected Czechia’s fourth president, beating the Slovak-born billionaire and former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš in a runoff. A career soldier, Pavel served as Chief of the Czech Army’s General Staff and later as Chair of NATO’s Military Committee. He retired in 2018.
Petr Pavel was born in the town of Planá in West Bohemia on November 1, 1961. The son of a soldier, Pavel entered the military grammar school in Opava during his teens and then the army university in Vyškov, where he became a candidate for membership in the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Graduating in 1983, he went on to lead an elite airborne reconnaissance platoon in Prostějov. Then in 1988, Pavel was selected for post-graduate intelligence training at the military academy in Brno.
His early communist affiliation would come back to haunt Pavel during the presidential election. The future president said in his defence that he only agreed to become a party candidate because he believed he would otherwise not be able to lead the paratroopers.
From 1991 to 1993, Pavel served within the army’s military intelligence department, taking part in the UNPROFOR mission in what was then still Yugoslavia. It was during this mission in January 1993 that Pavel took part in the action that would earn him France’s Legion of Honour, when his unit helped rescue 50 French soldiers from encirclement in Croatia. Lesser known is the fact that Pavel was also honoured for his conduct by President Václav Havel, who awarded him with Czechia’s Medal for bravery.
In 2002, Pavel was promoted to brigadier general and would go on to hold leading positions within the Czech Army, the Ministry of Defence and in various international postings either as part of NATO or the European Union over the next decade. He then served as chief of the Czech Army’s general staff for two years between 2012-2014 before being nominated by the government to serve as Chair of the NATO Military Committee. Pavel held the second highest position in the NATO alliance for a period of three years, retiring from active service shortly thereafter.
Pavel had been suggested as a possible candidate for president already during his NATO posting and speculation about his possible future candidature resurfaced shortly after he announced his retirement in 2018. Pavel did little to dismiss these rumours, announcing a country-wide tour in 2019 and saying that, although he did not want to enter politics, he would consider the office of the president as a form of service to the state.
Nevertheless, Pavel waited until September 2022 before officially announcing that he would be running for president. His election motto was: “Let’s bring back order and stability”. In order to qualify as a candidate, Pavel needed to gather either a sufficient number of signatures from members of the Czech Parliament, or at least 50,000 verified signatures from the public. He chose the latter and gathered the required number within less than a month of campaigning.
Polling placed Petr Pavel among the top candidates from the start. Indeed, he led many of the polls in the initial months and, despite his support dipping slightly during the late autumn period, Pavel bounced back ahead of Christmas emerging as the most likely candidate to take on former prime minister and ANO party leader, Andrej Babiš.
The retired general was also one of the main candidates to be targeted by election-associated disinformation, according to various analysts. Chain emails, an especially potent form of spreading disinformation especially among the older population in Czechia, described him as a pro-Western trained spy who would make Czechia a satellite of the United States.
After narrowly emerging as the victor of the first round of the elections in mid-January, Pavel’s military past became the target of what many saw as a harsh campaign by his opponent Andrej Babiš. The former prime minister tried to position himself as the candidate for peace, suggesting that, as a soldier, Pavel would be more likely to drag Czechia into a conflict. He also referred to the retired general as the “government candidate” who wouldn’t be a uniting figure for the whole population.
This strategy seems to have backfired, with pre-election polling indicating that Pavel’s lead ahead of his opponent had widened rather than narrowed. This surge in numbers was likely caused by Danuše Nerudová and Pavel Fischer, two candidates who together received more than 20 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections, pledging support for Pavel in the runoff. However, Andrej Babiš’s aggressive campaign may have paradoxically also played into Pavel’s hands, highlighting the latter’s calm and reserved demeanour.
Petr Pavel is set to assume office in March, replacing the current head of state Miloš Zeman. Unlike his predecessor, Pavel is expected to reside in his own home in the village of Černouček in West Bohemia. However, he has stated that he plans to work at Prague Castle, sleeping over in the traditional residence of the Czech head of state when needed.
Currently, Petr Pavel is married to his second wife, Eva, who is also a career soldier. He has two sons from his first marriage and a stepdaughter. A passionate motorcyclist, Pavel is the owner of a Jawa 350, one of Czechoslovakia’s iconic motorbikes. He is also a fan of travelling, reading, and trekking.
Retired army general, Petr Pavel, has been elected the next president of Czechia. He will be sworn in on March 9.