Pundit: Advantage Pavel but Babiš’s negative tactics may work

Petr Just

Right after coming second in round one of elections to the Czech presidency, Andrej Babiš attacked his rival for the post, Petr Pavel, referring to the latter’s alleged communist-era intelligence training. Mr. Babiš later released billboards implying the former army chief could lead Czechs to war. But how likely is this aggressive approach to succeed? I spoke to political scientist Petr Just.

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Michaela Říhová,  ČTK

“It’s no surprise that he started the campaign before the second round immediately, and it’s also no surprise that he started so aggressively.

“There has never been any doubt that the dynamics of the second round campaign would be much higher than the dynamics before.

“One of the reasons is that there would be the full entry of Andrej Babiš, who always brings a lot of emotions, who tries to put aside all the rationality, and who is also very easy to be provoked into some emotional and hysterical outburst.

“And this is actually what we saw immediately after the first round.

“And this is, in my opinion, what will pretty much characterise Andrej Babiš’s approach and behaviour throughout the entire period of two weeks between the two rounds of the presidential election.”

He’s depicting Petr Pavel as a warmonger and suggesting that Pavel would, somehow, draw the country into conflict. But is there anything new in this? It feels a bit like when five years ago Miloš Zeman painted Jiří Drahoš as a kind of “welcomer” of refugees.


“Although these two topics are different, the system, the scheme is actually the same: to frame your opponent with something that of course sounds negative, but in fact – and both Miloš Zeman and Andrej Babiš knew it very well – the president has no say on that particular issue.

“So Andrej Babiš, similarly to Miloš Zeman five years ago, is using this partially true, or sometimes even untrue, framing against the opponent in order to boost support for himself, or maybe to demotivate voters who were considering casting their votes for Petr Pavel.”

Petr Pavel | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

If you were an advisor to Petr Pavel, how would you tell him to respond to Mr. Babiš’s very negative campaigning now?

“This will probably be one of the most sensitive challenges that the Pavel campaign will be facing: whether to somehow accept Andrej Babiš’s rhetoric and respond in the same way, or to try to look calmer, look more rational and a more thoughtful person.

“Petr Pavel will probably have to find a position in between.

“On one hand he probably wouldn’t like to be seen as someone who would just be dragged by Andrej Babiš and not respond to his criticism.

“So Petr Pavel will definitely need to make some strong statements against Andrej Babiš, will have to defend himself.

“On the other hand, he shouldn’t do that too much, because otherwise he would be maneuvered into the position which Andrej Babiš probably wants him to be in – the position who will only expend their energy and time on defending something, on denying that he is not planning to do what Andrej Babiš says about him.”

Danuše Nerudová | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

Some of the other, eliminated candidates immediately backed Petr Pavel, including Danuše Nerudová. But how much can we really expect their voters to actually get behind Pavel?

“That’s always the biggest question mark in a two-round election.

“On one hand, you have these recommendations from the candidates who did not succeed and did not go forward to the second round.

“On the other, you can’t just mechanically and mathematically expect that their voters will shift towards the recommended candidate.

“Of course we have some sociological data which show that there was a certain overlap between Danuše Nerudová and Petr Pavel and between Pavel Fischer and Petr Pavel.

“We can expect that the majority of Nerudová and Pavel Fischer voters – if they go to the polls – will vote for Petr Pavel.

“So from this perspective we can say that the starting position is a little bit more advantageous to Petr Pavel.

“On the other hand, there is still a lot that is unknown.

“We still don’t know what share of voters will actually turn out for the second round.

“That will be the crucial moment: which voters actually will not go to the polls – and by not going to the polls will basically help the other side to win the elections.”

Petr Pavel and Andrej Babiš | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  René Volfík,  Radio Prague International/iRozhlas.cz

There is a certain logic to Andrej Babiš’s very negative approach. How likely do you think it is to succeed? How likely is Andrej Babiš to actually win?

“Well, despite Petr Pavel being in a slightly more advantageous starting position, I think the chances of Andrej Babiš are definitely not zero.

“There are chances that Andrej Babiš will be able to, first, mobilise his own voters but also to demotivate some of the voters of the other, eliminated candidates who – for different reasons – do not have any choice between any of the two candidates.

“For example, some voters who consider the Communist past of the two as unacceptable and therefore they would have no choice right now.

“So it is not definitely ruled out that Andrej Babiš could become the president of the Czech Republic, although Petr Pavel currently has a bit of advantageous position at the beginning of the second round.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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    Retired army general, Petr Pavel, has been elected the next president of Czechia. He will be sworn in on March 9.