Czech Republic: populists gaining ground

The Czechs will elect a new parliament on Friday and Saturday. The Ano party, led by billionaire media mogul Andrej Babiš, is ahead in the polls. Commentators discuss the rise of the controversial politician and discuss the things that make these elections special.

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Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Successful anti-system parties

This year the parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic are special in several ways, chief commentator Pert Honzejk notes in Hospodářské noviny:

“It's legitimate to at least talk of a milestone vote. For the first time in the history of our country a party that doesn't belong to the right or left of the spectrum is likely to win. For the first time a party (Andrej Babiš's Ano party) that distances itself in certain respects from the liberal democracy that has functioned up to now will win a majority. And for the first time there is the danger of an openly xenophobic, extremist formation (Tomio Okamura's party) garnering more than 10 percent of the vote. This won't pose a direct threat to Czech democracy, but it would certainly enter a critical phase.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Czech democracy not in danger

Editor-in-chief Jaroslav Plesl points out in Mladá fronta dnes, which belongs to Babiš company Agrofert, that there's no need for a doomsday mood if Babiš is elected:

“It's to be expected that the first demonstrators will gather on Prague's Wenceslas Square on Sunday, holding images of ex-president Václav Havel and protesting against the election results. None of them will be aware, however, that the loudest demand made on this square in November 1989 was for free elections. For the very kind of free elections that we now enjoy, that is, but which we don't properly appreciate if we're not able to respect their results. ... In four years' time at the latest there will be new elections that may have a very different outcome. That is the most beautiful magic of democracy.”

Contributors (RO) /

Media mogul's party fits in with the trend

Not only is Andrej Babiš's party ahead in the polls, it also reflects the trend in Europe, Contributors comments:

“The elections in the Czech Republic will very probably sweep a new star into the European limelight: media mogul Andrej Babiš. ... He rejects the introduction of the euro, refugee quotas and the extension of economic sanctions against Russia. Babiš wants to reintroduce border checks in his country, and is sending strong signals against corruption. The latter, however, must be viewed with scepticism due to the suspicions of EU subsidy fraud levelled against Babiš himself. ... His party Ano, which means 'yes' in Czech, is also an acronym for 'action of dissatisfied citizens'. The party, which was founded four years ago, fits in with the general trend in Europe towards new centrist movements that are trying to lure voters away from the traditional centrist parties.”

Právo (CZ) /

Strong rule instead of democratic values

Although the Czech Republic is doing well roughly half of voters say they prefer a head of government with a strong-handed approach, Právo comments:

“Unfortunately we can't find a definition of what people understand by that. Do they want something like Kaczyński's Poland, Orbán's Hungary or something like Putin's Russia or communist China? Probably not. ... Sociologists say the current state of the world is making people feel insecure and scared about the future. It follows that a number of people will see a government with a strong-handed approach as capable of guaranteeing stability, future prospects and the security of its citizens. This in turn produces politicians who promise people that they will take away their fears. It's worrying that more and more people are putting their living standards above democratic and liberal values.”

Sme (SK) /

Prague facing complex formation of government

The parties of the centre would only form a coalition with the likely winner of the elections - the Ano party led by media mogul Andrej Babiš who is facing charges of fraud - if the media mogul agrees not to take the office of prime minister. But that may prove difficult, Sme predicts:

“President Miloš Zeman has announced that if Babiš wins the elections he will task him with forming a government, even if the latter is in custody. Babiš's opponents don't want to form a government with him. But if they don't attain a majority they will have to. If Babiš gains a majority with the communists and the right-wing populist Okamura, he would have a trump card with which he could force some of his opponents into government against their will.”