Populist tycoon Andrej Babis and his Eurosceptic political party have won the Czech Republic's parliamentary election — by a landslide — making the "politically incorrect" billionaire businessman the main contender to become prime minister after coalition negotiations.
With all of the votes counted, Babis's anti-establishment party ANO (which stands for "Action of Dissatisfied Citizens" and is also the Czech word for "yes") won nearly 30% — almost three times its closest rival — in elections held on October 20. The Eurosceptic Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the anti-establishment Czech Pirates Party and the anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) came second, third and fourth, with around 11% each.
The Communists came in fifth with 7.8%. The Social Democrats, the center-left establishment party that finished first in the previous election, came in sixth with just 7.2%. The Christian Democrats, the center-right establishment party, won 5.8%, just enough to qualify for seats in parliament. In all, nine parties competed in the election.
The election outcome, the result of popular discontent with established parties, is the latest in a recent wave of successes for European populists, including in Austria and Germany. The populist ascendancy highlights a shifting political landscape in Europe where runaway multiculturalism and political correctness, combined with a massive influx of unassimilable migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have given rise to a surge in support for anti-establishment protest parties.
Babis's victory will also strengthen the role of the Visegrad Group (V4), a political alliance of four Central European states — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — committed not only to resisting mass migration, but also to opposing the continued transference of national sovereignty to the European Union. A stronger V4 will accentuate the divisions between the pro-EU states of Western Europe and the increasingly Eurosceptic states of Central and Eastern Europe. The European Union consequently will struggle to maintain an outward semblance of unity.
In his victory speech at the ANO party headquarters, Babis, who campaigned as a centrist, refused to speculate on the composition of a coalition government, but said he wanted the cabinet to be set up as quickly as possible: "This is a huge opportunity to change our country. I would like to assemble a government that will be of the people and for the people and promotes policies that are in their favor."
Babis also tried to reassure the public that he would not put the Czech Republic on the path to authoritarianism, as some of his detractors have charged:
"We are a democratic movement. We are a solid part of the European Union and we are a solid part of NATO. I do not understand why some people say we are a threat to democracy. We certainly are not a threat to democracy. I am ready to fight for our national interests and to promote them."
Babis has been sharply critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy and has repeatedly denounced EU-imposed migrant quotas and other "EU meddling" in Czech politics. Those positions resonate in the Czech Republic, where citizens have the second-lowest trust in the European Union of all 28 member states (only Greeks have less trust in the EU), according to the latest Eurobarometer poll, published in August.
During the campaign, the 63-year-old Babis, one of the country's wealthiest people, presented himself as a non-ideological results-oriented reformer. He pledged to run the Czech Republic like a business after years of what he called corrupt and inept management. He demanded a return of sovereignty from the European Union and rejected Czech adoption of the euro single currency. He has also promised to cut government spending, stop people from "being parasites" in the social welfare system, and fight for Czech interests abroad. Babis is often referred to as "the Czech Donald Trump."
Populist tycoon Andrej Babis (pictured) and his Eurosceptic political party have won the Czech Republic's parliamentary election, making Babis the main contender to become prime minister after coalition negotiations. (Image source: Jiří Vítek/Wikimedia Commons)
Babis does not want the Czech Republic to leave the EU; he has repeatedly stressed that unimpeded access to the European single market is essential to maintaining the health of the Czech economy, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the EU: "We have six thousand German companies here, investing with us and employing people."
At the same time, Babis is opposed to the country adopting the euro because doing so would, he believes, constrain national sovereignty and competitiveness:
"No euro. I don't want the euro. We don't want the euro here. Everybody knows it's bankrupt. It's about our sovereignty. I want the Czech koruna, and an independent central bank. I don't want another issue that Brussels would be meddling with."
Babis has pledged to reform the European Union from within, especially regarding migration policy: "I want to play a more important role in Europe. But we have to fight for our interests and make proposals. If I were a prime minister, I would say: 'Close this cursed external European border at last.'"
Babis has expressed his opposition to mass migration: "I have stopped believing in successful integration and multiculturalism." He has also insisted that the Czech Republic alone should decide who will work in the country and who will receive humanitarian aid: "I do not want to have a French or German migration policy; we want our migration policy to be completely different from other countries. Every state has some interests, we have to fight for Czech national interests, we do not want to have that multicultural model."
Babis has rejected pressure from the European Commission, which has launched infringement procedures against the Czechs, Hungarians and Poles for refusing to comply with an EU plan to redistribute migrants:
"I will not accept refugee quotas for the Czech Republic. The situation has changed. We see how migrants react in Europe. We must react to the needs and fears of the citizens of our country. We must guarantee the security of Czech citizens. Even if we are punished by sanctions."
In June 2017, Babis reiterated that the Czech Republic would not be taking orders from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels:
"We have to fight for what our ancestors built here. If there will be more Muslims than Belgians in Brussels, that's their problem. I don't want that here. They won't be telling us who should live here."
In an interview with the Czech daily Pravo, Babis said:
"It is unthinkable that the indigenous European population should adapt themselves to the refugees. We must do away with such nonsensical political correctness. The refugees should behave like guests, that is, they should be polite, and they certainly do not have the right to choose what they want to eat. Europe and Germany in particular are undergoing an identity crisis. There is a deep chasm between what people think and what the media tell them."
As prime minister, Babis would share government with Czech President Milos Zeman, who has described political correctness as "a euphemism for political cowardice." In an interview with the Guardian, the 71-year-old Zeman recounted a recent conversation with Angela Merkel: "My first sentence in the meeting with Madam Chancellor was: 'If you invite somebody to your homeland, you do not send them to have lunch at your neighbors.'"
In an interview with Czech Radio, Zeman, who has called mass migration to Europe an "organized invasion," said: "The Muslim Brotherhood cannot start a war against Europe, it doesn't have the power, but it can prepare a growing migrant wave and gradually control Europe."
Like Babis, Zeman has also expressed skepticism about Muslim integration: "The experience of Western European countries which have ghettos and excluded localities shows that the integration of the Muslim community is practically impossible."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.