"European Trump": Debunking 4 Myths About Elections in Czechia
23 October, 2017

Billionaire and media mogul Andrej Babis is set to become Czechia’s new prime minister after the ANO party won nearly 30 percent of the vote this weekend.  The tycoon’s anti-establishment movement received almost three times as many votes, as did the other eight parties entering the parliament after the record-breaking elections.

Babis – the second richest man in Czechia – was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, and began his career during the communist era. He is suspected of having ties to the KGB and is accused of collaborating with StB — a Czechoslovak counterpart to the KGB. His enrichment story resembles that of some Ukrainian oligarchs: he worked in a powerful state-owned enterprise, then built a business at the company’s expense. He started a successful agriculture business, Agrofert, which finances the ANO party. Babis’ company also owns MAFRA Media Group, which runs two of the most popular daily newspapers in Czechia – Lidové Noviny and Mladá Fronta DNES, as well as the iDNES site.

What will Czech-Russian relations look like in the future? Will the new government lift European sanctions against the Kremlin? Will Prague follow Great Britain out of the EU? Will a billionaire use politics to promote his business interests? These and dozens of other questions arose during the campaign. Hromadske and experts debunk the myths about the Czech elections.

Myth #1: Babis is Czech Donald Trump

Dubbed as the “Czech Trump,” Babis has been compared to the the American President; Both are billionaires (though Babis is richer by one billion dollars), own media, use anti-immigration rhetoric and criticize the establishment. Given these features, the media and experts have expressed fears that Babis’ behavior will resemble that of Donald Trump.

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Maxim Eristavi, a non-residential fellow of the Atlantic Council said that the new prime minister is nothing like the American president. “He's entering the Parliament not to destroy the system, but actually to skillfully manipulate and to top this system.”

Myth #2: Far-right gaining power in Europe

The “Alternative for Germany", an extreme-right party, made it into the Bundestag. Right-centered Sebastian Kurtz became the youngest chancellor in Austria. Populist Andrej Babish won the parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic. Alternative political forces in Europe really are growing, but here's what the experts say.

While Babis may be the victor, “political fragmentation won the election,” said Eristavi.  He explained that people across the continent and in Czechia are rejecting mainstream parties, and confused voters often look to the alternative: “But at the same moment, there is no overarching alternative emerging on a political front, so that's why we have so many parties — non-systemic alternative parties — winning the elections.”

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The Czech elections also saw a rise in other protest movements, including that of Tomio Okamura’s far-right SPD party, which ran on an anti-immigration campaign and won 22 seats. Eristavi explained that the previous dimension between right and left policies no longer exists, and “now the discourse is more about being an open or closed country.”

Myth #3: Czechia will leave the EU

Babis came to power running on a pro-European, pro-NATO, anti-immigrant platform — a weird combination, according to Eristavi.

Among the openly eurosceptic parties, extreme-right parties, such as “Freedom and Direct Democracy,” which gained 22 of the 200 seats, and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which received 8% of the votes and 15 mandates.

Czechia is showing one of the highest rates of economic growth in the European Union and has one of the lowest unemployment rates. However, euroscepticism, and even a “Czexit” movement (similar to Brexit) was heightened during the pre-election race. The ANO party did not openly criticize the EU, however, it issued anti-immigrant slogans and criticized the introduction of the Euro in Czechia. Babis refuted the rumors after his victory, proclaiming his pro-European position.

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“We are an important part of the EU and NATO. I will be grateful if people will stop worrying that we will look towards the East,” said the new prime minister.

Among the eurosceptic parties are the extreme right “Freedom and Direct Democracy,” which will receive 22 seats out of 200, and the Communist Party of the Czechia and Moravia, which gained almost 8% of the vote and received 15 mandates.

Myth #4: New parliament will be pro-Russian

The topic of the war in Ukraine was barely touched upon during the campaign and Babis avoided the issue of sanctions. However, after his victory, iDNES - a media outlet owned by Babis- announced that the new prime minister would not create a coalition with the  pro-Russian “Freedom and Direct Democracy,” and Communist parties.

/By Liuda Kornievych and Tanya Bednarchyk