Updated: Jan 27, 2022
The tides have shifted in the Czech Republic as Prime Minister and leader of the Czech populist party ANO 2011, Andrej Babis, narrowly lost the majority in the parliamentary elections that took place October 8 through 10.
Andrej Babis, the Billionaire Face of ANO 2011
Andrej Babis is a billionaire party leader with a spotty and controversial political career. He was part of the Communist party in the former Czechoslovakia (Drda 2014), has been repeatedly accused of possessing a conflict of interest due to his long history in finance and business (Drda 2014), and new evidence leaked just before the elections indicating his involvement in a case of enormous financial fraud (Alecci 2021). Despite this, his party ANO 2011 has managed to secure a sizable chunk of the popular vote since it first participated in Czech elections in 2013. However, the success of political figures like Babis is not by any means unique. Populism and the movement’s often contentious leaders have been on the rise across the world, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (Higgins 2021).
Elections: Coalitions Facilitate the Turning Tides
But it seems that this trend is facing a challenge, at least in the Czech Republic. Diverse parties have joined together in sweeping coalitions to contest ANO’s long-standing majority. The Spolu coalition, led by Pietr Fiala, consists of primarily conservative liberal parties such as ODS, KDU-CSL, and TOP 09. They ended up wiggling their way to the top with 27.56% of votes, earning themselves 71 seats in parliament. The PaS coalition, led by Ivan Bartos, consists of more progressive parties such as STAN and the Pirati. They won 15.43% of the votes and 37 seats. Meanwhile ANO won 27.34% of votes and 72 seats, narrowly missing the majority vote.
This then begs the question of who will become the prime minister: Pietr Fiala or Andrej Babis? Spolu may have won the majority vote, but only narrowly, and technically they are a coalition constituted of three different parties. Thus, ANO is still the biggest sole party in the Czech Republic.
Added Drama: A President in the Hospital
Any possibility of resolving the tension created by the hairs’ width margin between the Spolu coalition and ANO lies with populist President Milos Zeman. He will have the final say in who becomes the next Prime Minister. However, Zeman tragically collapsed as election results were announced last week (Cameron 2021). This has led to further uncertainty in an already precariously controversial election process.
The Future of Czech Politics?
While it is true that the success of coalitions like Spolu and PaS are a bold challenge to the populist grip on the Czech Republic, this does not necessarily mean Czech politics is seeing fundamental change. The reality is that with Spolu and ANO fighting for the lead in parliament, most parties in the Czech Republic fall between center and right of center. Leftist parties like the CSD dropped out of the race with less than 5% of the popular vote. In any case, the future of Czech politics remains in question until President Zeman recovers his health.
Written by Ava Fritz, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.
Alecci, Scilla. 2021. “Czech Prime Minister Secretly Bought Lavish French Riviera Estate Using
Offshore Companies - ICIJ.” ICJ, October 3, 2021.
Drda, Adam. 2014. “Andrej Babiš – Czech Oligarch.” Politico, September 11, 2014.
Higgins, Andrew. 2021. “Czechs Defeat a Populist, Offering a Road Map for Toppling
Strongmen.” The New York Times, October 13, 2021.