Scandal-ridden Babis, named in Pandora Papers, still set to win election

Czech PM is facing fierce opposition from powerful coalitions amid financial misconduct allegations. Despite that, he might keep his job

Ahmed Aboudouh
Friday 08 October 2021 18:49
<p>With an election to win, Andrej Babis has taken a leaf from Donald Trump’s book</p>

With an election to win, Andrej Babis has taken a leaf from Donald Trump’s book

The Czech public began voting on Friday to choose their new leader, and despite a series of scandals, prime minister Andrej Babis is set to win the race to the top office.

The latest polls show that his Ano (Yes) party could win at least 25 per cent of the 200 seats in the lower house of parliament, possibly enough to build a new coalition government.

But Mr Babis may have to overcome potential stumbling blocks to retain power in the form of possible rival centre-right and centre-left coalitions, and a far-right party that is scrambling for the role of kingmaker in the post-election negotiations.

Throughout the past weeks, the populist billionaire-turned politician tried to deliver a fixed and unmistakable message aimed at mobilising the older population to vote for his party.

And to successfully achieve this, Mr Babis took a leaf from Donald Trump’s book.

Through a heavy PR campaign, the Czech prime minister centred his strategy on using Twitter to disseminate punchy rallying cry around anti-migration, anti-EU and Nato messages that he hoped to resonate with more conservative voters.

His messaging included: “Tax rises? I don’t want that! Do you?” and “They want to let Brussels decide everything. I don’t want that! Do you?”

Analysts suspect Mr Babis might use any tool at his disposal to get himself re-elected and dodge the possibility of finding himself face to face with the consequences of alleged legal wrongdoings.

Czech police had recommended Mr Babis’s indictment in the so-called Stork’s Nest case, where he reportedly accepted €2m in EU subsidies, an allegation that could put him in jail for several years.

The 67-year-old politician vehemently denies he has a conflict of interest over subsidies from the bloc involving his former business empire.

Earlier this week, his name emerged among some of the wealthiest and most powerful figures who run offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.

The Pandora Papers, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, alleged that the Czech PM had put £16m in the British Virgin Islands to buy 16 properties in the French Riviera.

The investigators purported Mr Babis had not disclosed the French properties in his required asset declarations.

But he appeared unrattled by the revelations, as he maintained the money was fully taxed and that the transactions took place in 2009, years before his debut to politics.

His biggest defence, predictably was that those claims were levelled at him to harm his campaign in the election, a message that will surely be received favourably by many of his supporters.

This leaves Mr Babis with other problems, including how to lead Ano and his potential coalition partners – the leftist Social Democrats and the Communists – out of isolation and beat his opposition rivals.

The problem is that the Social Democrats and the Communists might not be able to score any seats at all this time around.

This precarious reality might leave Ano standing alone to face the other two major coalitions: Spolu (Together), which consists of three conservative and Christian Democrat parties, and PirStan, of the Pirates and Stan, a group of activists and independents.

Each coalition is expected to win about 20 per cent of the vote. They have put their differences aside and signalled they would work together to form a government and oust Babis if they score the biggest number of seats.

Mr Babis also has another serious contender that is promising to bite off a considerable share of his party’s votes. That is the extremist, far-right SPD party which in recent weeks rode the waves of anti-migration, Covid-19 economic fallout and havoc caused by an army of anti-vaxxers. If SPD was to find a place in government, it would push for a referendum on the Czech Republic’s EU membership.

To tackle the far-right threat and ensure his party’s share in this camp, Mr Babis invited the master of populism in central Europe, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, to support him on the campaign trails.

Mr Babis has also made sure to show his disdain of the EU’s plan to fight climate change in public, saying it would hurt the country’s economy and is responsible for high energy prices.

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