The October elections seem to be as predicted: ANO and his founder Andrej Babiš are the main favorites. However, which will be the ruling coalition is nothing but yet a puzzle
With less than three weeks to go for the election in the House of Deputies, all polls seem to concur in predicting ANO’s victory – Akce nespokojených občanů, namely the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens. The electoral polls register more than 25 percent in its favor.
Although polls have proven deceiving in past, few are doubting that, despite the controversial aspects that surround him, Andrej Babiš, the billionaire creator and owner of this movement, may have great chances of taking the Prime Minister’s office, or in any case push up to the government one of his trusty men, or “one of his puppets” as the critics suggest.
All this is happening with the blessing of Miloš Zeman. The head of state has expressed more than once his support towards Babiš, hoping probably to obtain in exchange the necessary support, in January 2018, for the re-election at the Castle.
None of the traditional parties seems to be objectively able to counter ANO’s victory. Starting with the social democrats from Čssd to the Christian democrats of Kdu-Čsl, and not to mention the two center-right forces, Ods and Top 09.
All these parties position themselves in utter opposition with Babiš and reject any hypothesis of a post-electoral agreement with the tycoon. This, however, does not exclude that, once the voting closed, exactly these parties will get on ANO’s side, if one or more coalition partners will be necessary for the formation of the future government. We can put aside the theory that after the elections the traditional parties would make place for a great anti-Babiš coalition.
We should underline that the controversial aspects of Babiš’s figure are highly visible to all of us. Approved last months by the Czech Parliament, the legislation on the conflict of interests, or Lex Babiš, became a bland remedy from the start. The billionaire complied by entrusting his assets to two trust funds, which limits only in theory the possibility that his personal interests may conflict with the impartiality demanded from a man of state.
The last drop is Čapí Hnízdo, namely the Stork’s Nest, a high-end agritourism farm, one hour away from Prague, for whose construction Babiš would have partially illegally drawn 50 million Czech crowns, a bit under two million euros of EU funds. Taken in charge by OLAF, the European Anti Fraud Office, the matter cost the Premier candidate of the displeased citizens a request for authorization for proceedings from the investigating bodies.
We could also mention other matters, such as suspicions of tax fraud for questionable financial transactions carried out through his Agrofert bonds. It was a scandal that last May let the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to exclude Babiš from the government, removing him from his office as vice-premier and minister of Finance.ù
As if this was not enough, there is evidence that connects the tycoon to the communist secret police, the infamous Stb. The 63 years-old billionaire has denied these allegations, stating in an enigmatically that he “never collaborated in a conscious way with the Stb”. However, as an utter novelty compared to 2013’s elections, this is a rather old matter, which did not prevent ANO and his leader to have a clamorous success and to rank second.
As for all the other issues, the businessman of Slovak origin has always been defending himself by invoking a plot meant to politically destroy him and by sustaining that the instigators are his enemies from the social-democratic party. He mostly points out the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and the Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec, with whom he ruled side by side over the last four years.
As a matter of fact, the signals of the classic dirty maneuvers to politically discredit him are not missing. While on one hand the content of the anonymously published interceptions in which Babiš gives directives to a journalist on how to use damaging information on his political opponents is highly disturbing, on the other side, it is equally alarming the way these interceptions were gathered and published. The same request that authorizes the proceedings in his case, two months after the vote, has the poisonous flavor of a clock working justice.
In any case, despite the proceedings in the investigation on the Stork’s Nest, the polls have not shown recently any collapse of ANO, or any other negative twists. A great part of his electorate, which is over thirty percent, seems willing to trust Babiš. People believe his arguments that are however expressed by mixing his mother tongue, the Slovak with the Czech language and thus often directing the oratorical results to an exhilarating limit. He has a simple way of speaking, perfectly calibrated with how much the citizens are willing to hear, and this obviously pleases, especially in this period of rearing populism.
Finally, there are so many people saying about him: “I trust him because he is already wealthy and has no need to steal”; or more prosaically: “He might also have personal goals to accomplish, but he certainly cannot be worse than the majority of long-standing politicians”.
Parliamentary fragmentation risk
Excluding nowadays any great achievements of the traditional parties, it is highly predictable that new political groups will be able to overcome the five percent threshold in the House; all this could bring us to face parliamentary fragmentation. Among these political groups, the first place is attributed to the Spd, party of Freedom and direct Democracy, led by Tomio Okamura, a leader who in last few years has been able to gain consensus, focusing on anti EU, anti-migrant and anti-Islam awareness, widely popular lately in Czech Republic. The other potential outsiders are the Czech Pirate Party, which even in this country has as agenda focus the liberalization of Internet, accompanied by ecological and liberal threads in economic and civil matters.
As for the post-voting results, the hypothesis is that most likely we will witness ANO’s victory, but not to the extent in which it will allow forming a single sided government led by Babiš.
The post-election negotiations will inevitably be influenced by Zeman’s moves, who has openly declared to consider as optimal a coalition formed by ANO and Čssd. In the period that remains before the end of his mandate, Zeman will most probably use all the available space to achieve this result. The head of state has even declared that he is ready to entrust the next mandate to Babiš, even if found guilty in the Stork’s Nest case. In this case, it would be interesting to know what Brussels will be thinking about a Premier in Prague, charged with drawing EU funds.
Considering the decreasing electoral turnout in the past years, the arising climate does not promise to uplift the image of Czech politics in the eyes of its citizens, especially among the younger ones. Whatever the result might be, either the already expected one for the winner or the uncertain one for the government, the most common reaction is a shoulder shrug. We will see if proven wrong.
by Giovanni Usai