The first round of presidential elections was held in the Czech Republic on Saturday: the two most voted candidates were Petr Pavel, a retired army general who also had a long career in NATO, and Andrej Babis, a billionaire entrepreneur known for his populist political positions, that he had been prime minister between 2017 and 2021. Pavel and Babis obtained practically the same votes: 35.4 percent against 34.9 percent. The second round will be on January 27 and 28.
The presidential elections in the Czech Republic were highly anticipated for two reasons: the first is that the outgoing president is Milos Zeman, an extremely controversial politician who during his two mandates had expressed positions very close to Russia, China and the semi-authoritarian Hungary led by Viktor Orban. Zeman, who is 78, did not run again because he has reached the limit of mandates and because his health conditions have deteriorated considerably in recent years, in some cases even preventing him from fully fulfilling his office.
The second reason of interest in the presidential elections is the return to the political scene of Andrej Babis, probably the best known and most contested politician of recent decades in the Czech Republic. Babis, a billionaire entrepreneur, had been prime minister between 2017 and 2021 and with the His party ANO (which is Czech for “yes” and is also an acronym for “action of dissatisfied citizens”) had led a right-wing and populist government, which had been hit by various scandals and controversies.
Among other things, Babis had been accused of disastrously managing the coronavirus pandemic in the Czech Republic, and of illegally obtaining millions of euros in European funds to spend on some of his personal enterprises. He was only exonerated from this last charge a few days ago.
Petr Pavel, on the other hand, is considered a moderate and pro-European politician, who has had a long experience in NATO. After the elections, Pavel defined Babis as a threat: “The danger is that (if Babis wins) not only will we slide towards populism but we will risk deviating from the path we have followed for the last 30 years: democratic, Western and pro-European”.
The polls give Pavel a large advantage in the second round, because it is believed that various moderate parties could offer their support: he should obtain 59 percent of the votes, against about 40 for Babis.
In the Czech Republic, as in Italy, the President of the Republic has a mainly formal role. But in recent years, former President Zeman had repeatedly exceeded the boundaries of his formal obligations and had used his influence to intervene heavily in the political life of the country, transforming himself into an extremely influential figure. It is likely that if Babis, who was an ally of Zeman, gets the presidency, he could continue in the same way.
Leave a Reply