Laure Mandeville, correspondent for the French publication Le Figaro, concluded after visiting several polling stations and conducting interviews, that “the migrant issue and the corruption issue are key. Both are linked in people’s heads to Brussels, which they see as bearing responsibility for doing nothing or encouraging both problems.”
By John Gizzi l October 31, 2017
Andrej-Babis, Czech billionaire and leader of the ANO 2011 political movement with his partner Monika addresses supporters in Prague, Czech Republic on election night Sunday, October 22
“It’s as if [fired FBI Director] James Comey ran for President in 2020 and defeated Donald Trump,” is how one Washington DC-based observer of politics in the Czech Republic characterized the breath-taking outcome of its elections Sunday.
Five months after the government of Social Democratic Prime Minister Bohusov Sobotka said “You’re fired!” to Finance Minister Andrej Babis for alleged irregularities in his private businesses, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur roared back—taking his ANO (in Czech, “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens”) Party to first place in parliamentary elections and thus positioning himself to become prime minister.
With near-final returns on election night Sunday, October 22nd, ANO racked up nearly 30 percent of the vote, or 78 seats in the 200-seat parliament. To pursue his agenda of tax reform, and a harder line on refugees and the EU, Babis will need to forge a coalition that gives him a majority in parliament.
This means turning to the ODS (conservative) Party, which came in second with 11.3 percent of the vote or the ruling Social Democrats, who plummeted to sixth place with 7.3 per cent. Leaders of both parties have voiced skepticism about working with the controversial Babis.
For Babis, 63, the alternative course would be embracing the nationalist Liberty and Direct Democracy Party, which got 10.7 percent of the vote and the 22 seats AN0 needs to take it to a majority.
For now, this is out of the question.
Liberty and Democracy is the Czech cousin of the French National Front (FN) and the Austrian Freedom Party. Its leader Tomio Okamura—half-Czech, half-Japanese—opposes all immigration, questions whether Islam is a religion, and wants direct initiative and referendum such as that used in California and other U.S. states.
Babis and ANO want nothing to do with Okamura and his party—for now, at least.
So, who is this most unusual of Czechs poised to lead in Prague and why is his pending leadership so feared?
“The Bouncing Czech”
The recent comparison to the fired Comey notwithstanding, Andrej Babis has been likened to several individuals. To the world press, he is “the Czech Trump”—a wealthy political outsider who, like the U.S. president, has had his ups-and-downs in court. (Less than a week before the election, Babis was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and formally indicted on charges one of his companies illegally received subsidies from the European Union; he dismissed the indictment as politically-motivated).
Others have said he is the Czech version of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orben—an authoritarian ruler who is contemptuous of EU regulations and hostile to the tide of refugees that have flooded Europe since 2015.
But perhaps the most apt characterization of Babis is “Babisconi”—a Czech version of Sylvio Berlesconi, Italy’s former tycoon-prime minister, with a fortune in varied enterprises and a powerful media empire as well.
As an entrepreneur, Babis could be easily dubbed “the bouncing Czech.” He has bounced around quite a few businesses and made them successful. Agofert, his company, has interests in agriculture, chemicals and food. Babis also owns his country’s second-biggest newspaper, the Internet news portal IDNES.cz, and numerous TV and radio stations.
Overall, his net worth is estimated at $2.4 billion, making Babis the second-richest of all Czechs.
As to how he will govern, there are numerous questions. Widely perceived as a hard-liner on immigration, Babis told the Financial Times: “Look, I am an immigrant [from Slovakia, once united with the Czech Republic until their ‘amicable divorce’ in 1992] …. I have no problems with Muslims. But how many migrants will we take? We need to have a selection process outside of Europe. In Turkey. We need Ellis Island [located in New York and the gateway for 12 million immigrants in the U.S. until it was closed in 1954].”
Although he declared himself a “European” on election night, Babis has voiced irritation with the EU on the campaign trail. He blasted the EU-crafted quotas for immigrants to member-nations as an “just another invitation to migrants” and the EU border agency Frontex, which he says has dropped the ball in controlling the migrant flow.
“A Large Wave”
Coming after the nationalist AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party came in third in German elections and the Freedom Party, its Austrian “cousin,” placed second in national elections, the obvious question is whether the triumph of Andrej Babis is the “third round” in a major anti-establishment wave poised to sweep Europe.
After covering the Czech election, Laure Mandeville, veteran correspondent for the French publication Le Figaro, told this reporter: “I wouldn’t call it the third round, but the next round in a large wave which is blowing through the entire West. There are different outcomes but similar roots and themes—the question of migrants, Islam, rejection of the elites, and dismissal of Brussels [EU headquarters].”
Mandeville, after visiting several polling stations and conducting interviews, concluded that “the migrant issue and the corruption issue are key. Both are linked in people’s heads to Brussels, which they see as bearing responsibility for doing nothing or encouraging both problems. There are No migrants here. Only 12—that’s right, 12 – refugees of the 2015 wave are here. But the people are frightened to death by the potential perspective of their world, which is very homogeneous and safe, changing. They look at Western Europe and think they don’t want to have the same multicultural model because they feel it has failed.”
John Gizzi is the White House correspondent and chief political columnist for Newsmax. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.