Ex-Czech general leads presidential race over billionaire Babis

Polls indicate former military official Petr Pavel will win out against scandal-hit former Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Czech presidential candidate Petr Pavel
Polls show Petr Pavel, an independent backed by the centre-right government, with a healthy lead heading into the presidential run-off [File: David W Cerny/Reuters]

Retired general and former NATO official Petr Pavel leads billionaire former Prime Minister Andrej Babis by a nearly 18-point margin ahead of this week’s presidential run-off, according to the final Ipsos agency poll.

Pavel was polling at 58.8 percent to 41.2 percent for Babis in the survey conducted over the weekend and published on Monday. The two candidates meet in the second round of the election on Friday and Saturday.

Pavel, 61, an independent backed by the centre-right government, has projected a clear pro-Western policy stance and support for Ukraine in its defence against Russian aggression.

Babis, 68, has tried to label Pavel as a threat to peace and presented himself since the first round of the election on January 13 and 14 as a force against war.

Czech former Prime Minister and current presidential candidate Andrej Babis
Babis, a billionaire tycoon, was acquitted in a European Union subsidy fraud trial four days before the first round of presidential voting began [File: David W Cerny/Reuters]

Babis’s campaign posters declare, “I will not drag Czechia into a war” and “I am a diplomat. Not a soldier.”

Pavel has dismissed the suggestions as nonsense.

Czech media have reported widespread anti-Pavel messaging on disinformation websites and chain emails.

Czech presidents do not wield many daily powers, but they appoint prime ministers and central bank governors and have a limited role in foreign policy. They also shape public debate and can pressure governments on policies.

Babis causes stir over NATO commitments

Babis, who heads the largest opposition political party, won the backing of retiring President Milos Zeman as well as figures from the extreme fringes of the political scene, including the pro-Russian former ruling Communist Party. Zeman had favoured closer ties with China and Russia until Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

In a television debate on Sunday night, Babis caused a stir by saying he would refuse to send troops to defend NATO allies Poland and the Baltic states if they were attacked.

He later backtracked on those comments, saying he would respect NATO’s mutual defence commitments.

The Ipsos poll findings backed up two weekend surveys that also showed Pavel leading by a wide margin.

Pavel became a soldier in the communist era and rose in the ranks after the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution. He served in the special forces and military diplomacy roles and led the army general staff from 2012 to 2015.

In the next three years, he headed NATO’s military committee of national army chiefs, the principal military advisory body to the alliance’s secretary general.

Monday was the deadline for polling ahead of a blackout period. One more poll was expected on Monday afternoon.

Source: Reuters