He was from the start the favorite in a particularly stormy ballot. Retired NATO general Petr Pavel won the presidential election in the Czech Republic this Saturday, January 28, with around 58% of the vote. His rival, the former Prime Minister and billionaire Andrej Babis, obtained only 42%. Petr Pavel succeeds Milos Zeman, a controversial politician, who had close ties with Moscow, before turning around when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Former elite paratrooper, Petr Pavel, 61, tried during the election campaign to distance himself from his competitor Andrej Babis, a man whose wealth – he is the owner of the agro-food group Agrofert, the fifth Czech fortune according to the magazine Forbes – and legal concerns have made him a divisive character. During his vote in the village of Cernoucek, in the north of the country, the former general declared that he wanted to be “a worthy president” of an EU and NATO member country. “I’m not going to make empty promises but I will describe the reality as it is,” he added.
Petr Pavel is a hero of the war in the former Yugoslavia, during which he notably helped to liberate French soldiers in a combat zone – which would later earn him the Legion of Honor. He then became the chief of the Czech general staff from 2012 to 2015, then that of the NATO military committee until 2018, the highest post of military official in the Atlantic Alliance. Since then, the former paratrooper with the white beard and white hair has established himself as an ardent defender of his country’s membership of the European Union and NATO. “The Czech Republic is a sovereign state and a full member (of the EU and NATO, editor’s note), so we can’t just sit quietly, nod our heads and criticize the results. We have to be more active and, at the same time, constructive,” he said.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, this motorcycle enthusiast also founded the initiative Stronger Together to manage various crises and help those in need. Some voters, however, reproach him – and like Andrej Babis – for having joined the Communist Party in the 1980s, when Czechoslovakia was under the political tutelage of Moscow.
Although his role is essentially ceremonial in the Czech Republic, Petr Pavel will have to appoint the government, choose the governor of the central bank and the constitutional judges, and ensure the supreme command of the armed forces. He promised to be an independent president, uninfluenced by party politics, and to continue supporting Ukraine, backing kyiv’s bid to join the EU.