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Retired Gen. Pavel wins election to become Czech president

Presidential candidate and retired army Gen. Petr Pavel casts his vote during presidential election runoff in Cernoucek, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE (AP) — Retired army General Petr Pavel defeated populist billionaire Andrej Babis in a runoff vote on Saturday to become the new Czech president.

Pavel, 61, will succeed controversy-courting Milos Zeman in the largely ceremonial but prestigious post.

With the ballots from 93% of almost 15,000 polling statins counted by the Czech Statistics Office, Pavel had 57.4% of the vote compared with 42.6% for Babis.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

PRAGUE (AP) — Retired army Gen. Petr Pavel was in the lead in the Czech presidential election, according to early results on Saturday.

Pavel had 54.7% of the vote with the ballots from more than 45% of polling stations counted. Populist billionaire Andrej Babis was behind with 45.3 %, the Czech Statistics Office said.

Czech voters are picking a successor to Milos Zeman in the largely ceremonial post.

Pavel and Andrej Babis, a former prime minister, advanced to a second round of voting because none of the eight initial candidates received an absolute majority in the first round two weeks ago.

The polls had favored Pavel, an independent candidate who came a narrow first in the opening round. Three other candidates pledged their support for Pavel ahead of the voting that started Friday.

Pavel, 61, a former chairman of NATO’s military committee, is a political newcomer. He has fully endorsed the country’s military and humanitarian support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Babis, 68, is a former prime minister whose centrist ANO (YES) movement ended up in opposition after losing the 2021 general election. He is supported by Zeman, with whom he shares euroskeptic views and the habit of using anti-migrant rhetoric.

Zeman was the first president elected by popular vote. His second and final five-year term expires in March. Lawmakers elected the previous two presidents, Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus.

The Associated Press

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