(Bloomberg) --

A retired general pledging unequivocal support for Ukraine is favored to defeat a billionaire former premier in the final round of the Czech presidential election next weekend, opinion polls showed.

In the first round of voting last week, Petr Pavel, who once served as NATO’s highest-ranking military official, finished first by a razor-thin margin, ahead of former Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a chemicals, agriculture and media magnate and the leader of the strongest opposition party.

Pavel now has 57.6% support before the runoff compared with Babis’s 42.4%, according to a survey conducted by STEM earlier this week and published by CNN Prima News on Sunday. In a separate poll by Kantar for the public television, Pavel had 53% and Babis 38%, with 9% still undecided.

The winner of the Jan. 27-28 vote will become the fourth head of state in the central European nation of more than 10 million people since the fall of communism. He’ll succeed President Milos Zeman, who antagonized European Union allies with his support for Vladimir Putin — until the invasion of Ukraine — and political rivals at home by bending constitutional conventions. 

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Pavel, running as an independent, has promised a less confrontational stance than Zeman. He’s won the backing from a number of presidential candidates who collectively received more than 20% in the first round. The former chair of the NATO Military Committee, Pavel has pledged to promote LGBTQ rights such as same-sex marriage.  

Babis, who as premier clashed with the EU over migration policies and conflict-of-interest allegations regarding his companies, is seeking a return to high office following his defeat in 2021 parliamentary elections. He’s campaigning to become a counterbalance to Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s center-right coalition, which he accuses of not doing enough to help people and businesses cope with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. 

The Czech Republic’s parliamentary system gives limited powers to the presidency, with key executive authority held by the government. But the head of state has a say in the creation of the cabinet, leads the military, picks central bankers and appoints judges. 

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