Ex-Czech general leads presidential race for billionaire Babis

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Polls show that former military official Petr Pavel will win against scandal-stricken former Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

Retired general and former NATO official Petr Pavel leads billionaire former Prime Minister Andrej Babis ahead of this week’s presidential election by nearly 18 points, according to the latest poll by the Ipsos agency.

Pavel scored 58.8 percent to 41.2 percent for Babis in the survey conducted over the weekend and published Monday. The two candidates will meet in the second round of elections on Friday and Saturday.

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

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

Babis, a billionaire magnate, was acquitted in a European Union subsidy fraud trial four days before the first round of the presidential election began [File: David W Cerny/Reuters]

Babis campaign posters read: “I will not drag the Czech Republic 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 messages on disinformation websites and chain emails.

Czech presidents don’t have many day-to-day 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 for policy.

Babis causes a stir over NATO commitments

Babis, who heads the largest political opposition party, has received the support of outgoing President Milos Zeman and figures from the far margins of the political scene, including the pro-Russian former ruling Communist Party. Zeman favored closer ties with China and Russia until Moscow invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

In a televised 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 came under attack.

He later backtracked on those comments and said he would respect NATO’s mutual defense commitments.

The Ipsos survey 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 through the ranks after the Democratic Velvet Revolution of 1989. He served in the special forces and military diplomacy roles and led the Army General Staff from 2012 to 2015.

For the next three years, he headed NATO’s Military Committee of National Army Chiefs, the main military advisory body to the Alliance’s Secretary General.

Monday was the deadline for polls ahead of a blackout period. Another poll was expected Monday afternoon.



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