Czech Republic: A Trump-like populist takes over
The Czech Republic is diving down a populist rabbit hole, said Petr Holec in Blesk (Czech Republic). In “an electoral massacre that Czech politics won’t soon recover from,” all the mainstream parties were trounced in last week’s elections, leaving oligarch Andrej Babis as the likely next prime minister. Babis’ Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant Action of Dissatisfied Citizens party—whose acronym, ANO, means “yes” in Czech—took nearly 30 percent of the vote. That’s almost the same vote share as the next three parties got combined: The center-right Civic Democrats, the anti-establishment Pirate Party, and the ultra-right Freedom and Direct Democracy each received nearly 11 percent. ANO, formed in 2011, was the junior partner of the center-left Social Democrats in the outgoing government, but managed to preserve its outsider cachet. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, completely imploded, taking a dismal 7 percent to come in sixth place. Altogether, upstart or new parties took 122 of the 200 seats in Parliament.
Babis is often called the “Czech Donald Trump,” said Hans-Peter Siebenhaar in Handelsblatt (Germany), and not just because he is a billionaire with authoritarian tendencies. Like Trump, Babis is “a whiz at self-promotion” but has no clear political ideology. When ANO first contested elections five years ago, it was pro–European Union and pro-immigration, but as Czechs shifted rightward, so did Babis. And like Trump, Babis campaigned on ridding politics of corruption and running government like a business. But he was charged with EU subsidy fraud this month—Babis calls the indictment politically motivated— and was sacked as finance minister in May over tax irregularities. As owner of the Agrofert conglomerate, which includes two newspapers and a radio station, he has used his media power to relentlessly bash his opponents and promote his party.
The billionaire may have to name someone else interim prime minister while he battles those fraud charges, said Florian Hassel in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). But if he does get to form a government, whom will he partner with? The new Czech Parliament is a swirl of “populists, Euroskeptics, and xenophobes,” most of them some flavor of right wing. The worst is Freedom and Direct Democracy, the anti-immigrant party led by Tomio Okamura—the half-Japanese son of an immigrant—who urged his followers to walk pigs past mosques so Muslims get the message they aren’t welcome. The “oligarchization” of Czech politics has no good outcome.
Give Babis a chance, said Stepana Chaba in Krajske Listy (Czech Republic). Too many Czech pundits are hyperventilating “like stupid Americans,” railing that they are losing their country to fascism and Nazism. They blame the election results on uneducated rubes in the villages. But maybe those rubes did right to reject the tired old traditional parties that have ruled since the country traded communism for Western-style democracy. “We’ve all been mucking around in this useless crap for too long.” Babis may well prove just another crook—but at least he’s something different. ■