by Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Retired general Petr Pavel won the first round of the Czech Republic presidential election by a narrow margin on Saturday, beating billionaire and former prime minister Andrej Babis.
The results after counting 99.7% of the votes show that Petr Pavel obtained 35.4% of the vote, against 35.0% for Andrej Babis.
Both Petr Pavel, who held a high-ranking position in NATO, and Andrej Babis, who served as prime minister from 2017 to 2021, should pursue a pro-Western policy, unlike outgoing president Milos Zeman. who has sought, for much of his two five-year terms, to build closer ties with China and Russia.
Petr Pavel criticized Andrej Babis, believing he was a populist and posed a threat.
“The danger is that we not only slide into populism, but deviate from the path we have followed for 30 years. A path clearly in favor of democracy, the West and Europe “, he said.
Polling institutes credit Petr Pavel with a slight lead over Andrej Babis in the second round. The former general should, according to all expectations, benefit from a greater number of carryover votes than his competitor.
Danuse Nerudova, a 44-year-old economics professor who came third in the first round of the presidential election with 13.9% of the vote, congratulated Petr Pavel and offered him her support.
The second round of the presidential election is due to take place in two weeks.
(With contributions from Kuba Stezycki and Jiri Skace; French version Camille Raynaud)