Czech elects ex-NATO Gen as President

PRAGUE: Former NATO General Petr Pavel will become the fourth president of this Central European nation after he won a bitterly fought election.
Hours after the polls closed on Saturday, Pavel was declared the winner of the second-round run-off vote. Preliminary results suggested he won 58.3 percent in the two-horse race.
The impressive margin of his victory over former Prime Minister Andrej Babis suggested a surge of support for liberal democracy, following several years in which populists have enjoyed the upper hand.
It also stoked hopes among his supporters that, amid the war in Ukraine, the Czech Republic was now cementing itself in the Western mainstream.
Pavel, 61, will replace Milos Zeman, an outspoken populist accused of encouraging the polarisation of the country’s political landscape. Zeman’s second and final term under constitutional limits ends on March 8.
Speaking after his victory was declared, Pavel pledged he would seek to heal the rifts in Czech society. “I don’t see winning and losing voters in this country,” he said. “Values such as truth, dignity, respect and humility won. I am ready to return these values with my service not only to the Castle, but also to our republic.”
The Czech presidency is a largely ceremonial role. However, Zeman has spent the last decade testing the boundaries of its few powers, which include formal appointments to the government, constitutional court and central bank. –Agencies