Czechia's presidential election run-off gets underway
Pablo Gutierrez in Prague

Polls in Czechia are now open for the presidential election run-off as voters cast their ballots to elect a successor to President Milos Zeman.

The two contenders for the office, retired army general Petr Pavel and billionaire businessman Andrej Babis faced off one last time on the eve of the election.

And now after an aggressive and emotionally-charged election campaign, voters will decide who will occupy the presidential office in Prague Castle for the next five years.


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Pavel is a former army general who served as Chairman of the NATO military committee from 2015 to 2018, and as Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces from 2012 to 2015.

Andrej Babis is a businessman who served as the Prime Minister of Czechia from 2017 to 2021. He was also the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister from 2014 to 2017.


'Peace is my program'

In the last two weeks, Babis has accused his opponent of being a warmonger, which has led analysts to raise questions about the billionaire candidate's support for NATO.

"I will answer after the debate," Babis told CGTN at the final presidential debate when asked about the accusation of warmongering against Pavel.

"I mean it's not me who is speaking about the war, ask our chief of army why is he speaking about mobilization. I'm speaking about peace, this is my program."

Babis was also asked whether he supports NATO or not, to which he replied: "It's a stupid question because we were following our obligation. We sent 700 soldiers to the Baltic states, we sent our fighters to the Baltic. My friend, the President of Estonia Juri Ratas, knows perfectly, so this is just a manipulation. Stop speaking about the war. I speak about peace."

However, some analysts insist Babis shares similar views to the incumbent President Milos Zeman, who had warm relations with Moscow as well as with Hungary's Viktor Orban.

'Divided by a very rough campaign'

"He is using this war narrative and this army vs diplomacy distinction as if to say, 'I will seek peace but here is my challenger who is an army general', implying that ultimately I will prefer a military approach, which is not true," said Petr Just, Secretary-General of the Central European Political Science Association.

Meanwhile, Pavel said he supports NATO's common defense principle and that the primary job of any army is not to attack but to protect.

It has been a bruising campaign, with Pavel's website hacked twice. It first happened right after the first round of elections and now just hours before the polls for the run-off vote opened. Czech authorities say Russian hackers are to blame.

"There are a number of themes and values that we have in common, and people have been divided by a very rough campaign. I believe that once it is over and it is calmer in the media, people will be calm," said Pavel.

The Czech presidency is largely ceremonial and it is the Prime Minister who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the government, yet the voters seem passionate about this contest, and a high turnout is expected for the second round.

The reason there is so much at stake in this election is that the conflict in Ukraine has increased the influence of countries in this region. 

"The center of Europe is moving eastward," acknowledged the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Prague last August.

This political contest may have been dominated by the candidates' personalities rather than issues that will impact the voters, but it is being seen as a referendum on how they view their country within the context of the EUand NATO.

COVER IMAGE: /David W Cerny/Reuters

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