The former Chief of General Staff Petr Pavel will be the new president in the Czech Republic after gaining 58.3% of the votes in the run-off election, said statistics agency CSU.
The vote was between former NATO general and mainstream pro-Western candidate Pavel, and populist ex-prime minister and billionaire businessman Andrej Babiš. Babis received just under 41.7% of the vote.
Voter turnout was relatively high, with around 70% of the electorate showing up at the polls.
As his supporters cheered, Pavel said in Prague: “In this election, values have won – values like truth, dignity, respect and humility.”
Babis conceded defeat and stressed he would continue to be there for citizens as opposition leader. “Nothing comes to an end,” he said.
The president has mainly representative tasks, but is considered an important opinion leader in the Czech Republic. The role includes appointing the government and being commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Pavel will succeed Milos Zeman, who has often polarized opinion with controversial statements about migrants, Muslims and the media.
Observers now expect not only a generational change, but also a change of style at Prague Castle, the president’s seat.
“My motto is: cooperation, decency and normal communication,” Pavel said. “I think this is what we have been lacking a lot in recent years.”
Pavel was the first general from an eastern member state to chair the NATO military committee from 2015 to 2018. During the election campaign, he promised to return “peace and order” to the Czech Republic.
The Russian war against Ukraine became the dominant topic in his campaign. Pavel called for further support for Kiev. “Russia must lose in Ukraine – also with our help,” he stressed.
The liberal-conservative head of government Petr Fiala already congratulated Pavel on his victory.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated Pavel and stressed that his experience would be valuable further supporting Ukraine.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also congratulated the new president. “As neighbours, partners and friends, we are working together for peace and security in Europe,” he said, according to his spokesperson on Twitter.