The populist ex-Prime Minister Andrej Babis has not been able to assert himself by stoking fears of war in the Czech Republic. The pro-Western ex-NATO general Petr Pavel will be the new president. He promotes “peace and order”.

Former NATO general Petr Pavel becomes the new president of the Czech Republic. The 61-year-old – a career changer in politics – surprisingly clearly beat the populist ex-Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the decisive runoff. After counting 90 percent of the constituencies, Pavel was clearly ahead on Saturday afternoon with around 57 percent of the votes. The billionaire Babis accounted for almost 43 percent. The liberal-conservative head of government, Petr Fiala, has already congratulated Pavel on his victory.

The ex-military – in the Czech Republic formerly also Chief of Staff – follows the current President Milos Zeman (78), who often polarized with controversial statements, at the beginning of March. The head of state has mainly representative tasks in the EU and NATO member states, but also appoints the government and is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The turnout was relatively high at around 70 percent of the votes.

From 2015 to 2018, Pavel became the first general from an eastern member state to chair the NATO military committee. During the election campaign, he promised to return “peace and order” to the Czech Republic. The Russian war against Ukraine became the dominant theme. Pavel campaigned for further support from Kiev. “Russia must lose in Ukraine – even with our help,” he stressed.

Babis tried to portray the former paratrooper as a warmonger. He called for talks with Moscow and announced that Poland would not be supported by soldiers in the event of an attack. The current loser in the election caused irritation at home and abroad.

Observers now expect not only a generation change, but also a change in style at Prague Castle, the seat of the President. Zeman often polarized with controversial statements about migrants, Muslims and the media. “My motto is: cooperation, decency and normal communication,” announced Pavel. “I think that’s what we’ve been missing a lot in recent years.”