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Ex-general beats billionaire in run for Czech Republic president

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Retired army general Peter Pavel narrowly defeated populist billionaire André Babis in the first round of the Czech presidential election, opening up a run-off vote between political newcomer and former prime minister.

Mr Pavel and Mr Babis moved into a second round of voting after none of the eight candidates seeking the country’s largely ceremonial presidency received a majority in the first round on Friday and Saturday.

Czech Statistics counted votes from 99.9% of the polling stations, with Mr Pavel receiving 35.39% and Babis 35.00%.

“It was such a close result and I can already see our hard work leading up to the second round,” Mr Pavel said. “Every vote counts.”

Czech Republic presidential election
Billionaire Andrej Babis, center, is running for president of the Czech Republic (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

He fully approves of the country’s military and humanitarian support in Ukraine’s struggle with Russia, and sees the Czech Republic’s future tied to its membership in the European Union and NATO.

Mr Babis said he was pleased with the result, which surpassed the 27.1% his centrist ANO (Yes) campaign won in the 2021 general election.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Mr. Babis congratulated Mr. Pavel on his victory, but immediately went on to attack his opponent.

“I don’t understand why he is running,” he said, highlighting Mr Pavel’s past as a soldier and Communist.

However, Mr Babiš, who was born in Slovakia, was a member of the Communist Party before the 1989 Velvet Revolution that brought democracy, and faces charges of cooperating with his country’s communist-era secret police.

Another challenger to Mr Babis, Danus Nerudova, former rector of Mendel University in Brno, came third with 13.9%, while conservative former diplomat Pawel Fischer came in with 6.8%. Fourth place.

Both Nerudova and Fischer have pledged to back Mr Pavel in a runoff in two weeks’ time.

The Czechs are picking a successor to Milos Zeman, whose second and final term expires in March.

Voter turnout was 68.2%, up from 61.9% in the previous 2018 poll.

Under the Czech constitution, the president picks the prime minister after general elections, which is one of the office’s main responsibilities.

The president also appoints members of the central bank board and selects constitutional court judges with the approval of the upper house of parliament.

Otherwise, the president has little executive power as the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister.

Babish, 68, was acquitted this week in a fraud trial, boosting his chances in the election.

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