Fertiliser billionaire emerges as surprise force in snap Czech poll

Anti-corruption ‘Yes’ party led by Andrej Babis appeals to voters tired of graft and greed

Warsaw

A billionaire who made his fortune from food and fertiliser has emerged as a surprise force in snap general elections in the Czech Republic, as voters weary of political graft and greed rally to his strident anti-corruption and anti-establishment message.

Andrej Babis went into the vote, which began yesterday and continues today, with his Ano party fighting the Communists for second place. Opinion polls gave them around 16 per cent of the vote each, and predict that the first-placed Social Democrats could fall short of getting enough votes to form an absolute majority. Ano, which means “Yes” in Czech, could therefore have a say in the make-up of a possible coalition government.

However, some analysts say Ano’s popularity – which has surged since its formation two years ago – is more likely inadvertently to help the Communists grab a share of national power for the first time since the 1989 revolution.

Mr Babis’s strident criticism of the political elite has won him few friends in the main parties. Critics call Mr Babis a populist with no real programme, and have refused to co-operate with him. “This dynamic plays straight into the hands of the Communist Party, as they increasingly look like the most reliable partner for the Social Democrats,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence, a London-based political consultancy, told Bloomberg.

Mr Babis, a member of the Communist Party before 1989, who made his fortune after its demise, has dismissed the idea of his party playing a role in a possible Communist comeback as “speculation”. He insists Ano offers a new choice for voters disenchanted and frustrated with the politicians who have governed for the past 20 years.

“It’s normal for politicians to forget their voters and their promises,” he told The Independent. “This election finishes on Saturday, Monday we have a day off so by Tuesday they will have forgotten everything.

“I created from nothing one of the biggest companies in the Czech Republic,” he continued. “I have made a life based on a handshake and trust. You can’t lie twice in business because if you lie once you can’t do it again: nobody will believe you. But in politics here it’s normal. They are lying and promising but never deliver on anything. They only have one programme and that is to get power and money.”

The snap elections were called after the country’s centre-right government collapsed in June, owing to a lurid spying, sex and corruption scandal that at one point threatened to engulf Petr Necas, then prime minister.

To add to the country’s woes, a recent survey by corruption watchdog Transparency International found the Czech Republic more corrupt than Rwanda.

“The country is going in the wrong way and something has to be done about it,” said the 59-year-old Mr Babis. “Two years ago I never dreamt about going into politics. I’m not a politician, but I was paying a lot of taxes and realised that people were not happy. I realised that something had to happen.”

However, Mr Babis has not managed entirely to avoid scandal himself. The press in his native Slovakia claimed to have found evidence indicating he collaborated with the StB, the communist-era Czechoslovak secret police, by spying on a colleague. “This is rubbish,” Mr Babis said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?