Former PM and retired NATO general make Czech presidential run-off

© Michal Cizek, AFP

Billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis and retired NATO general Petr Pavel topped the first round of the Czech presidential election on Saturday.

Babis won 36.02 percent and Pavel 34.38, while economist Danuse Nerudova came third with 13.85 percent, according to results from the Czech Statistical Office, with 90 percent of votes counted.

None of the five other candidates earned more than seven percent.

Babis and Pavel now enter a run-off on January 27-28 in a bid to become only the fourth president since the Czech Republic was founded in 1993 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The winner will replace Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive political veteran, following a period marked by the country's 2022 EU presidency as the war in Ukraine raged.

The victor will face record inflation in the central European country of 10.5 million people, as well as bulging public finance deficits related to the Ukraine conflict.

Prague voter Andrea Knoblochova said Saturday she wanted an "experienced, impartial and honest" president who should "be representative and have a good foreign policy standpoint".

"He should definitely be more discreet and humble in foreign policy," she added.

Business tycoon and former prime minister Babis, 68, is the fifth wealthiest person in the Czech Republic, according to Forbes magazine.

Pavel, 61, is a former paratrooper who was decorated as a hero of the Serbo-Croatian war during which he helped free French troops from a war zone.


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