Electoral earthquake in Czech Republic puts ‘Trump style’ Andrej Babiš in power
The Czech establishment lost big while newer parties swept to victory.
The results of the Czech legislative election results are in, and the establishment parties suffered big blows in all directions. The centre-left Social Democratic Party that came in first during the 2013 elections was reduced to 6th place with just 16 seats. On top came Andrej Babiš and his ANO party. After finishing a strong 2nd place in the previous elections, in 2017 the ANO came first with 78 out of 200 seats, a uniquely strong showing in the context of the multi-party, proportional representation Czech electoral system.
Babiš has often been compared to Donald Trump, and at times he has relished the comparison. Like Trump, Babiš is a wealthy businessman who entered politics as a colourful anti-establishment figure. Other similarities include opposition to Angela Merkel’s model for an open-door immigration policy in Europe, while Babiš is opposed to adopting the Euro in Czech republic. In other areas, he is best described as a ‘soft Eurosceptic’ on the typical central European model; while supporting membership of the EU, however, Babiš and his contemporaries campaign for a more confederate model, as opposed to the ultra-federalism generally desired by the Europeanists of the Franco-German-Benelux axis.
In other areas, his economic policies range from libertarianism on certain issues, to leftist interventionism in others. Throughout his time in politics, Babiš has placed a heavy emphasis of direct government investment in infrastructure.
Babiš will now form a new Czech government and will have many options for a single coalition partner. While the traditional centre-right Civic Democrats came in second after finishing abysmally in 2013, the other leading parties are even more anti-establishment than that of Babiš, who previously served as a government minister between 2014 and 2017.
In third place came the Czech Pirate Party. Modeled on similar such parties throughout Europe, the Pirates advocate a combination of small e-government and what can only be described as soft anarcho-libertarian of the left-wing variety. While the Czech Pirates have worked to model their party as one of compromise rather than techno-radicalism, it is still something of a shock that the formerly ruling Social Democrats finished far below a Pirate Party. In many EU countries, Pirate parties are seen as something of a protest vote, but this is no longer the case in Czech Republic.
Also coming in with 22 seats but with slightly fewer votes than the Pirates was the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, a group on the Czech far-right for whom anti-Islamic campaigns are a prominent feature.
After the Pirates and far-right came the Communists, who still enjoy support among some older Czechs and only then, the formerly ruling Social Democrats.
Of all the electoral surprises in the EU over the last year and a half, the Czech election is among the most surprising. Whereas in other countries, new anti-establishment candidates have either come second and worse after strong showings before election day, in Czech republic, the top tier of the electoral results, including the clear winner, were virtually all taken by anti-establishment figures.
What makes Babiš and his ANO interesting is that, unlike many other European anti-establishment parties such as 5 Star Movement in Italy, the ANO have actually been in government previously as part of a coalition. In this sense, while Babiš is still very much a maverick, he is not without ministerial experience.
Babiš, however, will now have to meet foreign heads of government, including Angela Merkel in neighbouring Germany. While the standard narrative is that Merkel and Babiš represent an odd couple in EU politics, it will remain to be seen who gives concessions to whom and on what issues. Although the attitude the EU has taken towards Greece and Cyprus and, in a different manner, Poland and Hungary has been confrontational, ultimately, EU politics can only function based on consensus, however uncomfortable shaping that consensus might be.
In this sense, Babiš represents a new test for the status quo that has found it difficult though not altogether impossible to work with people like Hungary’s Viktor Orban (pictured). Thus far, Orban has actually held his ground quite well against the Paris-Brussels-Berlin status quo. It remains to be seen if Babiš will be able to operate with such efficiency in terms of maintaining his policy proposals without causing too much friction with his other EU partners.
While Babiš looks to form a government, what is clear is that establishment parties throughout Europe are losing across various political systems. While many look for complex explanations as to why this is happening, the most fundamental reason is that after years of second and third chances to right previous wrongs, establishment parties continue to fail in the eyes of many European peoples. The old adage – amended, “If it’s broke’, time to fix it”, very much applies. It is now up to the new parties of Europe to prove that they are more useful than the old elite.