Opinion polls suggest ex-military official Peter Pavel will win over scandal-plagued former prime minister Andrei Babis.
Retired general and former NATO official Peter Pavel leads billionaire former prime minister Andrei Babis in this week’s presidential runoff by nearly 18 percentage points, according to the final Ipsos poll.
In the poll conducted over the weekend and published on Monday, Pavel had Babis’ support 58.8 percent to 41.2 percent. The two candidates will meet in runoff rounds on Friday and Saturday.
Pavel, 61, an independent backed by a center-right government, has made clear pro-Western policy positions and backed Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression.
Babis, 68, has sought to label Pavel a threat to peace and present himself as a force against war since the first round of elections on January 13-14.
Babiš’s campaign posters proclaimed, “I will not drag the Czech Republic into the war” and “I am a diplomat. Not a soldier.”
Pavel dismissed these suggestions as nonsense.
Czech media reported widespread anti-Pavel messages on disinformation sites and chain emails.
Czech presidents have few day-to-day powers, but they appoint the prime minister and central bank governor and have a limited role in foreign policy. They also influence public debate and can exert policy pressure on governments.
Babish draws ire over NATO commitments
Babis, who leads the largest opposition party, has won the support of retiring President Milos Zeman as well as figures on the extreme fringes of the political scene, including the pro-Russia former ruling Communist Party. Zeman had been a proponent of closer ties with China and Russia until Moscow invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.
During a televised debate on Sunday night, Babis caused a stir when he said he would refuse to send troops to defend NATO allies Poland and the Baltic states if they were attacked.
He later walked back those comments, saying he would respect NATO’s mutual defense commitments.
The Ipsos poll results backed up two weekend surveys that also showed Pawel far ahead.
Pavel became a soldier during the communist era and rose through the ranks after the democratic Velvet Revolution of 1989. He has served in Special Forces and military diplomacy, and headed the Army General Staff from 2012 to 2015.
For the next three years, he headed the Military Council of the NATO Chiefs of Army Staff, the main military advisory body to the alliance secretary general.
Monday is the deadline to vote before the blackout period. Another poll is expected on Monday afternoon.