Czech Republic votes for president in runoff election between Petr Pavel and Andrej Babis

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By Euronews  with AP and AFP
A woman votes at the presidential elections runoff at a polling station in Pruhonice, Czech Republic.
A woman votes at the presidential elections runoff at a polling station in Pruhonice, Czech Republic.   -  Copyright  Marko Drobnjakovic/ AP

Voters in the Czech Republic are casting ballots on the second day of a presidential runoff election between retired NATO general Petr Pavel and billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis.

Pavel and Babis 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 favour Pavel, an independent candidate who came a narrow first in the opening round. Opinion polls suggest he will win 58-59 percent of the vote, compared with 41-42 percent for Babis.

Three other candidates pledged their support for Pavel ahead of the voting that started Friday.

The rivals are competing for a largely ceremonial role. But it will give the victor the power to name the government, pick the central bank governor and constitutional judges and serve as the top commander of the armed forces.

Pavel, 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 is a former prime minister whose centrist ANO (YES) movement ended up in opposition after losing the 2021 general election. He raised controversy at the tail end of the campaign by saying he would not send troops if Poland or the Baltic states were attacked.

He later walked back the comments, but not before he had garnered criticism from all four countries.

Babis is supported by his country’s current president Milos Zeman, with whom he shares Eurosceptic 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.

Polls close at 2:00 pm on Saturday. The results are expected shortly after polls close.