Foreign media: Pavel's win is a change in direction for Czechia

Newspapers noted that Pavel’s pro-Western stance will be a big shift from Zeman’s favoring of Russia and China. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 30.01.2023 10:59:00 (updated on 30.01.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

Many foreign media outlets commented on the victory of the pro-European and pro-Western candidate Petr Pavel and the defeat of populist former prime minister Andrej Babiš in the Czech presidential election.

Pavel in Saturday's runoff defeated Babiš in a landslide victory with 58.32 percent of the vote. Pavel will become the Czech Republic's fourth president and will replace outgoing president Miloš Zeman on March 8.

French press recalls Pavel's heroism in saving French soldiers

The French newspaper Le Monde highlighted the contrast between Pavel and his predecessor, incumbent President Miloš Zeman. The daily called Zeman a Eurosceptic who attempted to change the course of the Czech Republic eastwards.

"Petr Pavel's election brings back a pro-European moderate to the presidency," Le Monde's headline stated. It added that outgoing president Zeman did not hesitate to express his sympathies with Russia and China and was moving "on the verge of overstepping his duties in the presidency."

The defeat of populist Babiš is crushing, the paper added, referring to the large margin of almost 1 million votes between both candidates.

Other French media point to the differences between the campaigns of Pavel a Babiš.

French news agency AFP said Pavel won despite a sharp disinformation campaign Babiš led against him.

"Pavel has promised, among other things, to be an independent president, not influenced by party politics, continue in support for Ukraine devastated by the war, and back up the Kyiv candidacy for the EU," AFP writes.

Babiš, for his part, was trying to win support from voters who fear the impact of the war in Ukraine, indicating that his rival would drag the country into the war, TV station France24 said.

Many French media call Pavel a hero, recalling his act from 1993 when he, as the commander of a Czech unit, saved 53 French soldiers during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, for which he received the Order of the Legion of Honor award in 2012.

A victory for pragmatism

American and British media also perceive the results of the presidential election in the Czech Republic as a defeat of the populist political style represented by Babiš and a victory of calm pragmatism that Pavel embodies. Their reporters mention Pavel's previous military career, his pro-Western orientation, and his support for same-sex marriages.

"[Pavel] will now ascend to an office rich in symbolism and moral authority and carrying the power of appointments in areas such as the judiciary and the central bank," UK-based publication The Guardian said.

UK broadcaster BBC said the elections' results follow an ill-tempered campaign marred by alleged death threats and disinformation. The BBC said that chants of "Pavel na Hrad" ("Pavel to the Castle") were an echo of the chants of "Havel na Hrad" that filled Czechoslovakia in November 1989.

"Indeed Pavel, a firm advocate of Czech membership of NATO and the EU, has often invoked the spirit of Václav Havel," the BBC added.

The BBC recalled that Babiš was forced to backtrack his debate comments that he would not live up to the country's obligations to defend a fellow NATO member if it was attacked.

News agency Bloomberg mentioned Babiš's roots as a rich businessman – "a chemicals, farming and media magnate known for his clashes with the EU." The media outlets looked at the former prime minister through the prism of his wealth, legal disputes, and sharp political style that he manifested in the campaign.

Bloomberg added that Pavel's image as "a cool and unflappable leader" helped him to gain traction among Czech voters. 

U.S.-based news station CNN was also critical of Babiš's campaign and also mentioned the Czech president's power to create and influence public opinion.

"Babiš had campaigned on fears of the war in Ukraine spreading and sought to offer to broker peace talks while suggesting Pavel, as a former soldier, could drag the Czechs into a war, a claim Pavel rejected," news station CNN's website said.

Almost all outlets that reported on the Czech presidential election highlighted Pavel's newly gained moral authority thanks to Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová's visit to his election staff in Prague.

Part of a broader trend

The New York Times looked at the presidential elections in the Czech Republic from a broader perspective, placing Babiš's defeat into the context of the defeats of other populist figures, such as former U.S. president Donald Trump who has not openly recognized his loss in the latest presidential election in the U.S. to date.

The Times mentioned that Babiš in his campaign used the same strategy as his former close partner, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who also indicated in the Hungarian elections in April 2022 that his contestant would like to send Hungarian soldiers to the war against Russia, though this was untrue.

The Washington Post said that the preference for Pavel over Babiš "may also suggest that the current climate in Europe is more favorable for war-hero multinationalists than it is for politically inclined oligarchs."

Austrian press sees a return to dignity

Pavel’s candidacy was perceived in the Czech Republic as hope for those who do not want former prime minister Babiš at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, Austrian radio and TV company ORF said in its report.

Like other Austrian media outlets, ORF mentions Pavel's military career and points out that he was the first general from Eastern Europe to become the chairman of the NATO Military Committee. ORF also said that Pavel does not oppose nuclear energy. Austria has been strongly opposed to nuclear energy.

Austrian news agency APA said Pavel's statement that he would like to be a dignified president and not bring shame, apparently hinting at incumbent President Zeman who is ill-famed with his controversial statements and performances.

Viennese daily Wiener Zeitung said that by his presidential style, Pavel wants to oppose populists and that he stands up for higher support to Ukraine in its resistance to Russian aggression.

Pavel's victory noted by Taiwan

English-language paper Taiwan News made a contrast between the 10 years of Zeman's presidency and the next years to come with Pavel. Zeman is friendly toward China, which has been striving for unification with Taiwan.

Taiwan News said Pavel will lead the country on the pro-Western path as a harmonizing element in the Czech public space.

It recalled Pavel's announced phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who had congratulated him on his victory on Saturday, expressing hope in deepening relations with the Czech Republic.

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