A billionaire populist dubbed the ‘Czech Trump’ clinched victory in the Czech Republic’s election on Saturday, while Eurosceptics and an anti-Islam group made strong gains.
Andrej Babis’ anti-corruption and anti-euro ANO (Yes) party won with 29.7 per cent support (78 parliament seats), in a victory that represents a shift to the right for the country.
The party was followed by the anti-euro right-wing ODS party on 11.3 per cent (25 seats). Turnout was at 60 per cent.
Andrej Babis’ anti-corruption and anti-euro ANO (Yes) party won with 29.7 per cent support (78 parliament seats), in a victory that represents a shift to the right for the country. Pictured: Babis with his wife Monika
The figures are based on results from 99.9 per cent of polling stations.
Since the president usually asks the leader of the strongest party in parliament’s lower house to try to form a new government, Mr Babis could be the country’s next prime minister despite allegations of fraud linked to European Union subsidies and other scandals.
Despite the country’s economic success, analysts say many Czechs who are heavily in debt or working long hours for low wages feel they have been left behind and are turning to populist, eurosceptic and far-right anti-EU parties to vent their ire.
Far-right and far-left anti-EU parties made gains in the fragmented vote that put nine parties into the 200-seat Czech parliament with few obvious coalition allies among them, something analysts warned could trigger instability, even chaos.
Andrej Babis (C) arrives at ANO headquarters after the polling stations of Czech elections closed in Prague on Saturday
Babis speaks after the first results prognosis of Czech parliamentary elections at the ANO movement election event in Prague
Babis insisted ANO was ‘pro-European’ and did ‘not threaten democracy’ in a televised victory speech in which he also railed against a two-speed Europe, while inviting all parties in parliament for coalition talks.
But most parties appeared to shun the controversial billionaire, who was recently indicted on suspicion of EU subsidies fraud.
ODS leader Petr Fiala ruled out going into coalition with ANO, insisting it will not be able to deliver on its promises.
The anti-establishment Pirates led by Ivan Bartos made their debut in parliament, scoring 10.8 percent (22 seats) and coming in third. Bartos also ruled out teaming up with Babis.
The far-right Freedom and Free Democracy (SPD) party of Tokyo-born entrepreneur and lawmaker Tomio Okamura scored 10.6 percent (22 seats) support on strong anti-EU, anti-migrant and anti-Islam rhetoric, similar to surging far-right parties in neighbouring Austria and Germany.
France’s far-right National Front Marine Le Pen sent Okamura a message of support before the vote.
A 63-year-old Slovak-born chemicals, food and media tycoon, Babis has vowed to steer clear of the eurozone and echoes other eastern EU leaders who accuse Brussels of attempting to limit national sovereignty by imposing rules like migrant quotas.
He favours a united Europe and balks at talk of a ‘Czexit’.
The anti-EU Communists took the fifth spot winning 7.8 percent support (15 seats), while the left-wing Social Democrats (CSSD) who head the outgoing coalition government took a bruising, coming in sixth with 7.3 percent (15 seats) of the vote.
The anti-establishment Pirates (pictured) led by Ivan Bartos made their debut in parliament, scoring 10.8 percent (22 seats) and coming in third. Bartos also ruled out teaming up with Babis
Babis speaks at a press conference at the ANO movement election event in Prague
Social Democrat party leader Lubomir Zaoralek appeared to rule out forging a new coalition with Babis’s ANO. The two parties currently form the government along with the smaller KDU-CSL Christian Democrats who scored 5.8 percent support (10 seats).
‘I think the number of votes suggests above all we’ll end up in opposition. I think it’s hard to negotiate about a government with these votes,’ Zaoralek told reporters in Prague.
KDU-CSL leader Pavel Belobradek also said his party was not keen on cooperating with Babis, due to his indictment.
Outgoing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, a Social Democrat, was shell-shocked by the rise of the far-right.
‘How is it possible that in the Czech Republic, in a situation when the country is doing very well, when we are a stable, safe country, we have achieved many things in the social sphere in the past four years, people are increasingly in favour of extreme views?’ Sobotka said.
Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Palacky University in the central city of Olomouc, told AFP he saw the SPD’s gains ‘as a threat to liberal democracy’ in this EU member of 10.6 million people.
Voting in Prague, pensioner Alena Kolarova praised Babis for ‘restoring order in public finances and tax collection’ during his three-year stint as finance minister that ended in May.
‘I think his policy is for the people,’ she told AFP.
With joblessness at 3.8 percent in September, an economy heavily reliant on car exports is slated to grow by a healthy 3.6 percent this year.
Despite the strong economy, young Prague voter Jiri Chaloupek said he chose the SPD as ‘this country needs a change, a rather radical change.’
Analyst Lebeda said ‘we have a very strange atmosphere with a number of emotions that absolutely do not correspond to the social and economic reality.’
‘I’m asking myself what the elections would look like if we weren’t in such good shape economically.’
Two small centre-right parties also entered parliament, each scoring around five percent of the vote.