As expected, Andrej Babiš made it into the runoff election for the office of Czech President. The result of the first ballot on Friday and Saturday was clearer than assumed by the opinion research institutes. Two other candidates were roughly on a par with Babiš, all three between 20 and 25 percent. The former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic received more than 35 percent of the votes. In two weeks he will face off against former general and chairman of NATO’s military committee, Petr Pavel. With a lead of a few per mille points, Pavel made it to first place.
The hope of the first woman in office has been shattered. The economist and former rector of the Mendel University in Brno, Danuše Nerudová, received just under 14 percent of the vote. Interest in the Czech Republic’s third direct presidential election was significantly higher than in 2018 and 2013. More than 68 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots to determine Miloš Zeman’s successor, who will not be allowed to stand again after two terms in office.
Nerudová and the fourth-placed senator and former ambassador Pavel Fischer immediately expressed their support for Petr Pavel for the second ballot. The ruling conservative-liberal coalition of five had not put forward their own candidate, but supported Pavel, Nerudová and Fischer. The five ruling parties had joined forces in the autumn 2021 election campaign for the House of Representatives to replace the minority government of Andrej Babiš.
This coalition against the populist Babiš was initiated and supported by civil society. In June 2019, the organization “A Million Moments for Democracy” brought more than a quarter of a million people to the streets of Prague to demonstrate peacefully for more decency and democracy. The organization is now calling for the election of “democratic candidates,” and the criticism was explicitly directed at Babiš and the candidate of an extreme right-wing party.
With an estimated fortune of more than four billion euros, the big businessman Andrej Babiš is considered the fifth richest man in the Czech Republic. The EU Commission saw him as having a conflict of interest during his tenure because of his companies, which receive large sums of EU subsidies. There is also a file on the 68-year-old that identifies him as a former secret service employee in socialist Czechoslovakia. He is considered a confidant of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Critics and activists from Transparency International, for example, accuse Babiš of having set up a corrupt network of helpers in the state who, for example, direct the flow of subsidies in favor of his companies.
Criticism of Babiš’ Corona policy
During the election campaign, Babiš criticized the government for doing more for the war refugees from Ukraine than for its own people. His slogan: “He helps people – that’s why Babiš”. During his tenure, Babiš was also criticized for poorly organized corona policy, the Czech Republic had one of the highest death rates in the world in relation to its population. For example, Babiš had already declared the end of the pandemic when the worst and deadliest wave hit the country in autumn 2020 – countermeasures came far too late.
Petr Pavel, 61, has his own history in the former Czechoslovakia, having previously served in the army there. After reunification, he studied in London, climbed the ranks in the army of the new democratic Czech Republic, fought in the Yugoslav war and later became the highest-ranking Czech representative in NATO. His slogan is: “Let’s restore order and calm to the country.” Like Nerudová, he explicitly criticized not only Babiš, but also the incumbent President Zeman for his pro-Russian policies for a long time.
While the mostly very young supporters shed tears at Nerudová’s campaign party, the mood in Pavel’s team was euphoric. The 44-year-old Nerudová was seen by the younger generation in particular as a face of change, unencumbered by the pre-reunification period, looking to the future. “There’s a point in trying,” she told her followers. Then she declared her support for Pavel. “There is still a great evil and this evil is called Babiš.”
Pavel initially explained modestly: “Considering that I’m a politically inexperienced person compared to Babiš, the result doesn’t look bad at all.” He expects the election campaign with Babiš to be “full of half-truths and maybe a few untruths.” It is now about choosing a change, about the country having politicians who keep their oaths of office and keeping promises, respecting the law and about “being a trustworthy country for our allies.”