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Former NATO general Petr Pavel wins Czech presidential vote

Czech presidential election winner Petr Pavel reacts at his headquarters after the vote results were announced, in Prague, Czech Republic January 28, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Retired NATO general Petr Pavel defeated a billionaire former prime minister in an election run-off on Saturday to become the fourth president of the Czech Republic.

Pavel, a former paratrooper, won 58.3 percent of votes while Andrej Babis scored 41.7 percent, according to final results published by the Czech Statistical Office.

"I would like to thank those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honored democracy and cared about this country," Pavel said after the results showed his victory.

"I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have prevailed in this election," he added.

The 61-year-old Pavel will in March replace President Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive politician who fostered close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn after Russia's war with Ukraine started last year.

Turnout in the EU and NATO member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high, topping 70 percent following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy.

Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead as disinformation plagued the final campaign.

Pavel said he was ready to start tackling rifts in the society caused by the campaign, recent crises including the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and Zeman's divisive politics.

Babis, who served as Czech prime minister from 2017-2021, congratulated Pavel and admitted defeat.

"I would like to wish him to be the president of all citizens of the Czech Republic, to be sensitive to their problems and fight for the interests of the Czech Republic," he added.

While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, picks the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and serves as commander of the armed forces.

'No better alternative'

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was looking forward to "deepening the close cooperation" between the two neighbors.

"I am impatiently awaiting a personal meeting and wish you a lot of strength and success," he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his congratulations and invited Pavel to Paris.

Pavel will be the fourth Czech president since the country's independence following its peaceful split with Slovakia in 1993, four years after former Czechoslovakia shed four decades of totalitarian communist rule.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova traveled to Prague to congratulate Pavel in person, saying she was happy that "in our region and in Europe, there is a new head of state who honors democratic values."

Pavel has vowed to be an independent president unaffected by party politics and to continue to support aid to Ukraine as well as its bid to become an EU member if it meets entrance criteria.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in a tweet welcomed Pavel's "strong commitment to our European values."

"Your experience in security, defense and foreign relations will be precious to maintain and strengthen Europe's unity in support of Ukraine," she added.

(Source: AFP)

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