The results of the 20th/21st October Czech general election are now in in which the media-savvy billionaire, Andrej Babis, has come out on top. He is a man used to getting his own way and assuring voters that he will use his considerable business acumen to run the government. Sound familiar? The victor is also the Czech Republic’s second-richest man and is considerably wealthier than President Trump. Babis is now set to become prime minister after coalition negotiations. His campaign was based on an anti-establishment, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic platform and it successfully won the election with 30% of the vote. This echoed the victories of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Sebastian Kurz in Austria.
Who is Andrej Babis?
Babis became very rich, very quickly, in the post-communist snatch and grab of state assets. He built an agribusiness and media empire after the Iron Curtain was finally wrenched open and The Velvet Revolution of 1989 took place. Accusations of financial fraud and claims he collaborated with the communist secret police have haunted him, but he dismisses as a state conspiracy against him or ‘fake news’. Luckily for Babis he now owns almost all Czechia’s media and like the Italian tycoon Silvio Berlusconi before him, has used his considerable media muscle to fight his way into politics and build the ANO party. The 2013 election saw him rise to the position of Finance Minister as the result of a coalition with the Social Democrats after they narrowly beat ANO with 50 seats (ANO won 47).
What is the ANO party?
ANO is an anacronym in Czech for ‘Action of Dissatisfied Citizens’ as well as the Czech word for ‘yes’. It is an anti-establishment party that has followed a familiar trend in European elections beating the declining mainstream parties by feeding off voter frustration, although the citizens in Czechia perhaps have less reason to be dissatisfied than other EU members that have recently held elections. The last four years have seen considerable economic gains, the increase of the Gross Domestic Product and Czech unemployment is the lowest in the European Union. Corruption and cronyism, as well as immigration, are issues that keep the electorate talking. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer showed that the Czech public consider corruption widespread amongst the police, judicial system and even attest that the public administration processes are sped up with the use of bribes. Part of ANO’s election campaign was to focus on Babis’s commitment to combat corruption, despite the man of the moment fighting criminal fraud charges himself.
Who were ANO’s opposition?
Despite the somewhat eyebrow-raising antics of Czechia’s president Milos Zeman, notorious for his drinking habits and offensive remarks, (as well as being an outspoken supporter of Putin), the country’s last three prime ministers have all been steady EU politicians running under the banner of Social Democrats (CSSD). However, Prime Minister Petr Nečas resigned in 2013 after a bribery and corruption scandal which triggered early legislative elections that saw ANO narrowly miss out on winning the majority of seats.
This year the CSSD (the party of the former 3 prime ministers) took a substantial tumble and became only the sixth largest party to win votes. They have dismissed a further coalition with ANO as long as Babis remains in the party and have refused to work with him while he is at the centre of corruption charges.
The centre right Civic Democrats have also played down the idea of working alongside Babis. This leaves the far-right and anti-establishment parties who all made considerable gains this election. The Czech Pirate Party and the Freedom and Free Democracy Party (SPD) are both in the running as candidates for Babis to form a new government with. The Pirate Party tout themselves as anti-establishment, anti-corruption with a desire for direct democracy and pledge that they would allow the public to be part of major national decisions. The SPD is anti-immigration, hard Eurosceptic and wants to ban Islam in the Czech Republic. Said SPD is run by Tomio Okamura, a Czech-Japanese entrepreneur and has links to Marine La Pen’s Front National in France. President Zeman has told Babis that he must begin to form the new government next week.
Why are the Populists so popular?
What Happens Now?
The big takeaway from the recent Dutch, French, German, Austrian and Czech elections is not only populism but a historic loss for the dominant parties. Clearly the media have played a big part here by focusing intently and relentlessly on immigration and politicians and journalists alike must take responsibility for their choices and their words.
In Western Europe nationalist and populist parties have garnered more support than they have for years however they have not quite made it into the upper echelons. But in the East the mistrust and resentment of Brussels has seen such parties cannoning to power. In the face of the current climate of Euroscepticism we should focus on how the EU has contributed to a better world.
As well as stabilising a previously unstable continent, the EU is a particularly rare beast in as much that it can stand up to multi-national companies such as Apple. It is currently demanding that the corporation pay £11.9 billion in back taxes. We also know that during this apparent populist surge people are still tolerant. Last year in Germany, 40,000 people gathered on the streets to hold hands and protest against racism.
Resources and further reading:
The Toxic Politics of Migration in the Czech Republic
In Czech Election, a New Threat to European Unity
Czech Election: Billionaire Babis wins by large margin
Czech elections have become really volatile. This year was no exception
Here’s Why Czech Election Results Demonstrate Protest Vote
Why is populism popular? A psychologist explains
EU demand for Apple to pay €13bn taxes unjustified, say Ireland
Czech Republic Corruption Report