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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Czech elections: Billionaire PM asks voters for more time at top


The people of the Czech Republic go to the polls this weekend, as billionaire-turned-politician Andrej Babis seeks another four years in office.

Mr Babis, leader of the populist ANO party, faces a tough challenge from the centre-right opposition and also has the far right nipping at his heels. And his fate is intertwined with the health of ailing President Milos Zeman.

A few weeks ago, Mr Babis took to Twitter. He had something on his mind:

Bikes instead of cars? I don’t want that! Do you?

The tweets came thick and fast.

Tax rises? I don’t want that! Do you?

A few seconds later.

They want to let Brussels decide everything. I don’t want that! Do you?

And there was more.

They would punish the honest and hard-working. I don’t want that! Do you?

And on and on, in an almost Trumpian stream of consciousness.

The target was clear; the opposition Pirate Party and others the prime ministers dismisses as “neo-Marxists” and “eco-terrorists”.

If Mr Babis’s voters were left in any doubt, shortly afterwards there was a video, showing a rabid horde of millennials waving placards reading “Refugees Welcome!”, “Tax People’s Flats!” and “Lower Pensions!”.

The slogan: “I don’t want that. Do you?”

Czech voters having to isolate because of Covid are allowed to vote at drive-in polling stations

The strategy appears to be to frighten the living daylights out of ANO’s older, less educated voter base in order to mobilise them for the two-day election on Friday and Saturday.

Andrej Babis, unlike Donald Trump, is unlikely to type any of this himself.

ANO’s campaign is heavily reliant on a professional, well-oiled marketing machine, with public relations experts fine-tuning every tweet and Facebook post.

Fighting on two fronts

So far it’s served him well, but will it be enough this time around?

Mr Babis, who now strikes a pugilistic clenched-fist pose on campaign billboards, is fighting this election on two fronts.

Two opposition coalitions flank the government on one side. Spolu (Together) is a coalition of three conservative and Christian Democratic political parties.

PirStan is a coalition formed by the Pirates, who already control the Czech capital, and Stan, a grassroots movement comprised of local mayors and independents.

Petr Fiala (rigth) is the Together coalition’s candidate for prime minister

But he’s also up against the far right.

Tomio Okamura and his SPD party hope to capitalise on migrant fear, economic insecurity, and anti-vax sentiment.

The far-right SPD is calling for a referendum on pulling out of the European Union

They have lofty goals for a seat at the top table when post-election talks begin. Their entry into government comes with a referendum on leaving the EU.

‘It wasn’t pretty’

“The Czech Republic is at a crossroads, between old and new, east and west, if you will,” said commentator and stand-up comedian Ludek Stanek.

“The general fear is that we will be pushed further into Russian territory. And you don’t want that because I remember the Russian occupation, and it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t enjoyable “He continued.

Some believe Mr Babis is so isolated and his coalition options are so limited that forming a government with the far right will be his only way to stay in power.

But isn’t this Nato and EU member too firmly entrenched in Western structures for any political arrangement to change that?

Ludek Stanek’s placard reads: “Anywhere but here”

“You’re from the United Kingdom!” exclaimed Ludek Stanek. “You were shackled to the European Union and were kicked out in five years!”

Pandora’s box

All of this was complicated before Mr Babis was named in the massive Pandora Papers leak, which revealed he used offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands to acquire property worth $22 million on the French Riviera.

PANDORA PAPERS: Secret wealth of leaders exposed

He claims that the transactions were completely legal, that the money was fully taxed, and that they occurred in 2009, years before he entered politics. He has threatened to sue the Pirate Party’s dreadlocked leader for referring to the transaction as “money laundering.”

However, the Pandora leaks are not Mr Babis’s main issue.

His political future is in the hands of President Milos Zeman, who is ailing.

Mr Zeman, who has already stated his intention to vote for ANO, has stated that he will name the leader of the largest party to form a new government. This is almost certainly going to be Mr Babis.

The opposition coalitions, according to the president, are a “fraud” on the electorate.

Rumours that the ailing president is seriously ill have been denied

Mr Zeman, on the other hand, is not feeling well.

The president, 77, is a heavy smoker and former heavy drinker who has Type 2 diabetes and uses a wheelchair.

He was recently hospitalised for eight days for no apparent reason. His spokesman responded after two days of silence with a cryptic tweet quoting the Bible.

Mr Zeman was later diagnosed with exhaustion and dehydration, according to the president’s office. However, there were new rumours this week, which were officially refuted, that his condition was worsening.

His chancellor was even forced to deny his death in a radio interview.

No, he said, he was looking forward to voting on Friday and participating in post-election negotiations.

If for whatever reason he is unable to, there could be even more uncertainty.

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