Elections in the Czech Republic: The not so mild old man

Elections in the Czech Republic: The not so mild old man

Czech ex-prime minister Andrej Babiš, freshly acquitted, would soon like to steer the country’s affairs again – this time as president.

Ex-President Andrej Babiš

Ex-President Andrej Babiš in the presidential election on January 13 Photo: David W Cerny/reuters

PRAGUE taz | On the eve of the big referendum, Andrej Babiš dared to come out from under cover, in which he spent a considerable part of his election campaign. Because so far he had been the only one of a total of eight candidates to be absent in all public primary debates.

“I understand that the media want to make a show of the presidential elections, but I don’t think the office of president I’m running for deserves that,” Babiš said when he publicly confirmed his candidacy in early November last year. The 68-year-old, who determined government policy in the Czech Republic between 2013 and 2021, emphasized that he and his views are already well known to voters from his time as finance and prime minister.

Since his leap onto the political stage, which he accomplished just over ten years ago when he founded his populist one-man movement ANO in 2011, Babiš has divided Czech society. And now, 15 months after being voted out of office as head of government, he is in charge of the presidential elections.

His potential voters are where the incumbent President Miloš Zeman scored in 2013 and 2018: in the villages and small towns far away from the metropolis of Prague, among all those who feel neglected and misunderstood by Prague politics. The other half of the population regards Babiš as the absolute political evil that must be prevented in these elections.

elite of followers of the communist regime

Not only because his indecisive, helpless, but populist government policy during the corona pandemic further undermined the already strong distrust in his political abilities, but above all because for many Czechs Babiš represents what they finally draw a line under want: the elite of followers who faithfully supported the communist regime and benefited from it – as well as from its fall in 1989 – thanks to their elitist functions. The strongest argument against Babiš is that we don’t want an unofficial employee of the Czechoslovak State Security as President in 34 after the fall of the Wall.

From the accusation that he had committed subsidy fraudBabiš was acquitted by a Prague court on Monday before the elections.

With a correspondingly freshly charged self-confidence, Babiš finally faced his two favorite candidates on the evening before the first round of voting on Friday on the private broadcaster TV Nova: the Brno professor and expert in tax law Danuse Nerudova and Peter Pavel, the general a. D., whose Military career in the reconnaissance squad of the Czechoslovak People’s Army began and culminated at the head of the NATO Military Committee.

In his almost typical chaotic way, embedded in his unmistakably Slovak accent, the oligarch, who stands at the top of the Czecho-Slovak financial nobility, played the internationally well-connected statesman on the side of the “little man”.

“Somebody has to be active”

As president, he would oppose any tax increases, on the international stage he would use his friendly relationships with other heads of state to promote peace in Ukraine: “We could then meet at Prague Castle for the peace summit,” enthused Babiš, who spent two days there had previously been received by French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Ukraine. “Someone has to become active and organize it and I’ll sign up for it,” said Babiš confidently.

“He stayed out of public debates for half a year so that we could aggressive politics of his person don’t have in mind,” political scientist Karel Komínek commented on Babiš’s appearance. Now he’s trying to play the mild old man who understands the problems of ordinary people, says Komínek.

If the election polls are correct, the first ballot will decide who will run against Andrej Babiš in the runoff. The anti-Babiš camp is still divided: some consider General Petr Pavel to be spineless and actually not much better than Babiš. The 61-year-old began his career as a private who was loyal to the regime, which, despite his apologies, made him unelectable for many.

Still, he is credited with better chances than Danuše Nerudová. The tax expert hasn’t lacked sympathy, but credibility since it came to light that under her leadership Brno’s Mendel University was systematically trading doctoral degrees.

But all these scratches on the CV fade under the shadow of Andrej Babiš and his possible election: when it was introduced ten years ago, the direct election of the president was still considered the ideal choice of head of state, which is defined by the Czech constitution as something between substitute emperor and greeting August, in the meantime it has primarily become a choice for the lesser evil.

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