Czechs Choosing New President in Second Round of Election

Czechs will go to the polls on Friday to elect a successor to President Miloš Zeman, whose second term in office ends on March 8. 

The second-round runoff between former Prime Minister Andrej Babis and retired Nato general Petr Pavel is portrayed as a contest between populist oligarchy and liberal democracy.

In the Czech Republic, the role of president is a mostly ceremonial but still highly influential post.

The polls favour Pavel, an independent candidate who came a narrow first in the first round with 35.40 per cent. Babis followed at 34.99 per cent.

Three other candidates have pledged their support for Pavel ahead of the two-day ballot.

The winner will succeed controversy-courting Milos Zeman whose second and final term expires in March.

Czechs assessed Zeman’s ten year performance in the country’s top post with an average of 4 on a five-point scale, the equivalent of a “D” in the Western school grading system, according to the results of a survey conducted by NMS Market Research.

He was the first president elected by popular vote. Lawmakers elected the previous two presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.

Pavel’s platform includes keeping the Czech Republic strongly anchored in the European Union and Nato and he has come out strongly in favour of further military aid for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

He also backs the adoption of the euro and progressive policies such as gay marriage.

Meanwhile, during his time as prime minister, billionaire Babis enjoyed close ties with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who continues to clash with the EU over the rule of law.

He has played on fears the war in Ukraine could spread to central Europe and said he would offer to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

The outcome of the election will be announced on Saturday afternoon.

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