The management of the Coronavirus and the conflict of interests are weighing on the leader of Ano, but the divisions of the opponents and the presidential support of Zeman are in his favor
The false steps that characterized the management of the health crisis by the Czech government, catapulting this country to the first places in the world by percentage of deaths, have significantly reduced the popularity of prime minister Andrej Babiš in recent months and made the political destiny hang by a thread. The continuous controversy related to his ongoing position of conflict of interests, and the alleged illegal use of European funds and his compromising relationship with the pre ‘89 regime are nothing compared to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the image of the Prime Minister during the winter months. Before the arrival of the Coronavirus, Ano, the party of which Babiš is Father and Master, was thriving, reaching 30% of the consensus. Whereas now, it hovers just above 20% as reported by polls. According to observers, there are many voters ready to turn their back on him compared to 2017.
However, with less than four months until the renewal vote of the Chamber of Deputies, scheduled October 8-9, it appears premature to give up on him. The time left until the elections could play in his favor, just as a series of other factors, starting with the savviness that Babiš has always shown during his career, both before ‘89, in the shadow of the communist regime, and during the next period, as businessman and politician. Briefly, except for the enigmatic future developments connected to the Covid-19, it will not be surprising if he would find a way to strengthen his position and if the vote would decide the confirmation of the billionaire premier. Obviously, with the blessing of president Miloš Zeman.
The questionable strength and unity of the competition
Throughout the winter and up to the beginning of spring, the favorite position in the elections was assumed by an alliance formed by the Pirates, the majority, and from Stan, the civic movement of the Mayors and Independents, which acts a little like a crutch. It will probably also be due to this structure, that the Pirate/Stan coalition started in a rather tottering way these first weeks of the electoral campaign, quickly cornered by the tough populist hits of Babiš. For example, the premier didn’t stop at setting up a barrage but started a counterattack from the beginning of the electoral campaign, attributing to the pirates the intention of colluding with Brussels and of wanting, for example, to open the doors of the Czech Republic to irregular migrants of Islamic religion, even wanting to house foreigners in the homes with excess square meters available. At the same time, Babiš does everything to paint an image of the Pirates as the “strange types that represent a threat to the traditional way of living of the Czechs”, topics that Babiš already had used successfully on a good part of the electorate of this country. The fact is that the Pirates, along with Stan, after having been long time favored, with the percentage of popular vote even at 25%, they start to downslide now at the beginning of the summer and have the appearance of those cyclists, on the run for so many kilometers, and when caught up with, they no longer have the energy to reach the finish line.
Also, there is the other coalition of parties that oppose Babiš aiming to remove strength from the Pirates, ie Spolu (together), formed by the Civic Democratics of the ODS, the Christian Democrats of the KDU-ČSL and the Liberals of the Top 09. In theory Spolu – led by the President of the ODS Petr Fiala, a leader of a tenuous charisma – should represent the natural ally of the Pirates and Stan to give rise to a post-election government coalition. It remains to be demonstrated if the two electoral coalitions, formed overall by five parties, will be able to find sufficient common points for a plausible government program, beyond the common intention to take out Babiš.
Without excluding the possibility that the current common enemy might reveal himself, for some of these five parties, or for some of its exponents, a possible interlocutor with whom to agree and perhaps join forces. The logics of politics, not only the Czech one, have already made demonstrations of this type in the past.
The presidential support favoring Babiš
President Miloš Zeman will play a decisive role in the formation of the next Czech government, the one that will arise after the October elections. Zeman has already clarified the direction he intends to take. Meanwhile, disregarding the super partes role, he announced that in October he will vote in favor of Ano, therefore Babiš. Secondly, he explicitly said that pre-electoral coalitions not only do not represent anything, but should even be considered “scams towards citizens”.
According to surveys, the popularity of Miloš Zeman, is at historic lows, so it’s all to be seen if the endorsement in favor of Ano, will really serve to smooth the electoral path of the current Premier. However, and more likely, a greater importance will be attributed to the presidential intention of disregarding the electoral coalitions (even less obviously than those anti Babiš), and entrust the task of forming the next government to the leader of the strongest party, that in all likelihood will be precisely Ano.
The questions about future allies
The electoral result of his current allies will be of obvious importance for Babiš, in the first place the social democrats of ČSSD, current government partners of Ano, and the communists of KSČM. In fact, it was precisely the communists that in the last four years, with their external support, have guaranteed maintaining the Minority Government Ano/ČSSD in the saddle.
For a few years now, the two historic parties of the Czech left were gripped by a deep crisis. Certain polls even show the risk that, especially for the social democrats, they might fail to overcome the 5% electoral threshold, therefore missing the goal of electing its own representatives to the Chamber of Deputies, which would put Babiš in the need to find other forces to form a coalition with.
Excluding the hypothesis of an alliance with the Spd of Tomio Okamura, Babiš could, according to different observers, find a support in Přísaha (oath), a brand-new political force, which appears this year in the elections for the first time and that according to the polls would have considerable chances to overcome the 5% threshold, becoming the future tip of the scale.
Přísaha proposes itself as the classic anti-system power, which places the fight against corruption at the center of its political program, an evergreen of the electoral campaigns of recent years in the Czech Republic, which among other things has always rewarded in terms of votes those carrying the role. The founder of Přísaha is Robert Šlachta, a former super policeman who led the organized anti-crime unit of the Czech police from 2008 to 2016, before leaving the uniform, slamming the door and saying he was not appreciated in the institution. Šlachta has all the appearance of the “right man in the right place”, to the point of raising the doubt that Přísaha is the result of a skilled marketing operation, inspired by Babiš itself, in order to create a friend party. The fact that some former Ano spin doctors are modeling the Přísaha electoral campaign is also feeding this hypothesis. “He is a billionaire businessman; I was a state servant for thirty years. With Babiš I have absolutely nothing in common” commented Šlachta on these assumptions, cutting it short. However, nothing can exclude that the former justiciary policeman and the billionaire premier won’t find common interest points after the elections.
For now, during this summer that just started with a weakened Covid-19 but not yet defeated, the Czechs seem more worried about knowing, if and where they can spend their holidays, than about the October appointment with the ballot boxes. The electoral campaign will flare up during September, and everything lets us believe that it will be a very tough encounter in which, given the stakes, the low blows will not be missing.
by Giovanni Usai