Ex-NATO general has Czech polls upper hand

Babis looks set to lose out to Petr Pavel, according to the latest opinion polls, after the former NATO general won over supporters of several first-round candidates

PRAGUE (AFP) — A retired NATO general leads a billionaire ex-premier going into the Czech presidential run-off that starts Friday, following an election campaign that saw Russia’s war in Ukraine take center stage.

Wealthy entrepreneur and former prime minister Andrej Babis has sought to woo voters nervous of a spillover from the conflict by implying his opponent — as a military man — could drag the Czech Republic into the war.

The populist lawmaker also said he would not send troops to Poland or the Baltics to help them under NATO’s collective defense — comments he later walked back after raising eyebrows abroad.

Babis looks set to lose out to Petr Pavel, according to the latest opinion polls, after the former NATO general won over supporters of several first-round candidates.

“Turnout will be key. The question is whether Babis will manage to demobilize a part of Pavel’s voters,” said Otto Eibl, an analyst at Masaryk University.

“It doesn’t seem likely really because Babis polarises society and many people will want to stop him,” he told AFP.

The winner of the run-off, which ends Saturday, will replace Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive politician who nursed close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn when Russia invaded Ukraine.

The new head of state will face record inflation in the central European EU and NATO member of 10.5 million people, as well as bulging public finance deficits related to the war in Ukraine.

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

Pavel won the first round by a whisker but has since gained a considerable lead, according to the final opinion polls published on Sunday and Monday.

The career military man scored between 58 and 59 percent in the three polls published by CNN Prima News, the Ipsos agency and the Median agency.

Slovak-born Babis — a food, chemicals and media tycoon — trailed with 41 to 42 percent.


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