Presidential Election: Babis Rejects Pavel’s Call To De-Escalate Campaign Tensions
Pavel and Babis will meet in two debates on Wednesday. Photo credit: vlada.cz.
Prague, Jan 25 (CTK) – Czech presidential candidate Petr Pavel called on his rival Andrej Babis to calm the current tense situation in society, which has reached a critical level due to the tone of his campaign, Pavel’s spokeswoman Eva Hromadkova told journalists yesterday.
Hromadkova added that Babis should withdraw all campaign materials that use the fear of being pushed into a war, apologise to soldiers, and promise publicly that he will not attack and escalate the situation in the upcoming televised debates. Pavel also published the appeal on Twitter.
“Due to your campaign, the conflict in society has reached a critical level and we must mitigate it. Whoever of us wins, you should realise the responsibility for the state of our society after the election,” Pavel said.
Former Prime Minister Babis (ANO) rejected the call at a press conference, saying Pavel’s call made no sense as he has always supported soldiers.
In video footage Babis posted on Twitter, he criticised Pavel’s followers for obstructing his meetings with the public. He said this was no sign of democracy.
“It was me who supported soldiers. I visited several garrisons. The [military] budget increased from CZK 42 to 85 billion. Together with soldiers we fought COVID,” said Babis, who was prime minister in 2017-2021.
He said Pavel should rather condemn the aggressive behaviour of his supporters at meetings with the public. “Our voters and members do not attack, supporters of Pavel attack,” Babis said.
Babis’s meetings with the public are regularly attended not only by his supporters but also groups of his opponents, who carry banners with critical slogans, whistle, and chant in protest.
Babis has been criticised for his billboard saying “I will not drag the Czech Republic into a war. I am a diplomat. Not a soldier.” Critics say this was scaremongering and an insult to soldiers.
Babis admitted that the text was not quite right and promised to change it. Now new billboards have appeared saying “The General Does Not Trust Peace” and “Vote for Peace. Vote for Babis.”
Critics say Babis is trying to use the threat of war to his benefit.
On Saturday, Babis announced that he had received a death threat letter with a live bullet and insults addressing his wife Monika. This was condemned by Pavel and Prime Minister Petr Fiala, both of whom also urged Babis to reduce tensions by changing the tone of his campaign. On Monday, Babis told reporters the letter had been sent from Brno.
Babis said yesterday that he had received a further anonymous letter, whose author said they would kill Babis if he became president.
Due to the threat, Babis cancelled his planned visit to Hradec Kralove yesterday afternoon, and said he would no longer be running a contact campaign before the weekend’s election runoff. The letter has been reported to the police, who are investigating.
Pavel has also limited his campaign in the last few days as well; citing a viral infection, he cancelled visits to the towns of Kolin and Pribram.
Danuse Nerudova, who finished third in the first round of the election and now supports Pavel, said she had also received a violent threat. “I was threatened by your supporters who told me to take back my words that you represent evil. [They said] if I don’t do it, I will be attacked by a baseball bat,” she told Babis last weekend, calling on him to lead his campaign in a decent way.
Following Babis’s announcement, several Czech politicians took to social media to condemn the threats and violence, but said the anonymous threats were in fact rather common.
On a visit to Berlin, Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) condemned threats against politicians, and said political representatives should contribute to reconciliation in society. “Politicians receive threats, this is not exceptional, I receive them, too,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is now part of what a politician must bear. All of us must do our utmost to lower the tension in society. This has no place in politics and no place in society.”
He added that it is important that politicians do not use lies in election campaigns, do not turn people against each other, and do not play on people’s fears.
Marketa Pekarova Adamova (TOP 09), chair of the Chamber of Deputies, wrote on Twitter that she received letters like Babis almost every day, along with other politicians. “This is not part of democracy and I call on everybody to formulate their criticism decently and not against the rules. But I am not going to hold a press conference about it, because I would never be doing anything else,” she said, indicating that Babis was trying to take advantage from the threat in his campaign.
The end of Babis’s contact campaign will not significantly influence the election result, said political analyst Miroslav Mares, as Babis is no longer winning new voters in this way. He said the election result may be more influenced by the fact that many people would go to the mountains for the weekend without casting their votes.
Mares said that Babis was trying to take advantage of the impression that his family have been threatened and put supporters of his rival into the same group as those who sent the threats. “He hopes to mobilise his voters and discourage some of those who are considering supporting Pavel,” he said.
On Wednesday, Pavel and Babis will meet in debates on the Novinky.cz server and on CNN Prima News television.