Czech ‘Trump’ wins election
Billionaire Andrej Babis’ party scored a resounding victory in the Czech Republic’s parliamentary elections yesterday [Saturday], in the latest populist triumph in Central Europe.
Babis’s Ano (Action for Dissatisfied Citizens) received 29.7 per cent of the vote, almost 20 points ahead of the second-placed party.
Ano means “yes” in Czech and the tycoon has invited comparisons with Donald Trump.
The radical Pirate Party and the far-right SPD, which wants to leave the EU, came third and fourth.
Babis is thought likely to favour the Social Democrats (CSSD) or the Civic Democrats as coalition partners. He founded Ano in 2011 following a series of corruption scandals and entered the CSSD-led coalition two years later.
Slovakian-born Babis, 63, has been accused of seeking to undermine democracy by plotting to weaken parliament and buying media groups to silence criticism. Babis campaigned on an anti-euro and migration platform – capitalising on popular opposition to EU refugee quotas.
“This is an earthquake. It’s a total revolt against the established parties and the mainstream,” said Milan Nic of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “Since the 1990s I can’t recall elections that changed the political landscape so much.”
Apart from the Eurosceptic Civic Democrats, who came second place with around 11.2 per cent of the vote, the traditional parties had a dismal night, despite a booming Czech economy and the lowest unemployment rate in the EU.
CSSD, who led the previous coalition which also contained Ano and the Christian Democrats, fell from 20.5 in 2013 to 7.3 per cent. The Christian Democrat vote dropped from 6.8 to 5.8 per cent.
Babis was finance minister in the ruling coalition until May, before he was forced to resign amid allegations about his taxes.
He founded the Agrofert conglomerate, one of the biggest Czech employers, portraying himself as a businessman who would reform an inefficient state.
As the owner of 230 firms that include food, biofuel and fertiliser companies, Babis is worth an estimated US$4.1 billion.
He is the country’s second-richest man and faces criminal fraud charges over his business dealings and claims that he had been a willing collaborator with the StB, Czechoslovakia’s secret police, during the Cold war.
The election was fought amid allegations of Russian interference in Czech politics through the spread of disinformation, leading the outgoing government to become the first in the EU to form an “anti-fake news unit”.
Rise of the populists. Andrej Babis and Sebastian Kurz, who won this month’s Austrian election, in 2015. Picture credit: Wikimedia