Retired NATO general Petr Pavel beat a billionaire former prime minister in an election run-off on Saturday to become the fourth president of the Czech Republic, final results showed.
Pavel, a former paratrooper, won 58.3 percent of votes while Andrej Babis scored 41.7 percent, said the Czech Statistical Office.
“I would like to thank those who voted for me and also those who did not but came to the polls, because they made it clear they honoured democracy and cared about this country,” Pavel said after the results showed his victory.
“I can see that values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility have prevailed in this election,” he added.
The 61-year-old Pavel will in March replace President Milos Zeman, an outspoken and divisive politician who fostered close ties with Moscow before making a U-turn when Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
Turnout in the EU and NATO member country of 10.5 million people was unusually high, topping 70 percent following an acrimonious campaign marked by controversy.
Babis and his family have been targeted by death threats, while Pavel was the victim of a hoax claiming he was dead as disinformation plagued the final campaign.
“Our community is somewhat hurt by the presidential campaign, by the multiple crises we have faced and are facing, but also by the political style that has recently prevailed here,” said Pavel.
“This has to change, and you have helped me to take the first step on the path towards this change.”
Babis, who served as Czech prime minister from 2017-2021, congratulated Pavel after the vote and admitted defeat.
“I would like to wish him to be the president of all citizens of the Czech Republic, to be sensitive to their problems and fight for the interests of the Czech Republic,” he added.
While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, picks the central bank governor and constitutional judges, and serves as commander of the armed forces.
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