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Czechia: retired general edges former PM in presidential election

Retired general Petr Pavel edged past former prime minister Andrej Babiš to take the lead in the first round of the Czech Republic’s presidential election on Saturday, results from 99.1 percent of voting districts showed.

The two candidates will head for a run-off vote in two weeks’ time, between January 27 and 28. The results showed Pavel with 35.24 percent of the vote and Babiš, who had led from the start of counting, with 35.15 percent.

Pavel said voters could choose to believe Babiš’s “useless promises” and ignore his record, or choose change by voting for him “even if I am not the ideal candidate for everyone”.

Babiš initially had a lead over Pavel that gradually narrowed throughout the afternoon.

Both Pavel, a former general staff chief and NATO military committee chairman, and billionaire opposition leader Babiš who was prime minister in 2017-2021, would likely be more pro-Western than the retiring incumbent Miloš Zeman, who promoted tighter ties with China and, until the invasion of Ukraine last year, Russia.

Pavel, 61, is strongly pro-Western and supports further military aid for Ukraine as well as adoption of the euro.

Babiš, who built a chemicals, farming and media empire now registered in trust funds, would be a smaller change as he shares Zeman’s warm relations with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has been at odds with European Union partners over the rule of law.

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