Meet The Eccentric, Euroskeptic, Czech Billionaire Who Will Become Prime Minister
The Czech election is taking place today, with the “Czech Donald Trump”, Andrej Babis, expected to be voted in as Prime Minister. As we noted last week, Babis is the Czech Republic’s second wealthiest person, is demanding the return of greater sovereignty from the EU, rejects the Euro and is against Muslim immigration. He has pledged to run the country like a business, while eliminating corruption. Oh, and he is also facing criminal charges for fraud. Babis’s anti-establishment party ANO stands for “Action of Dissatisfied Citizens” and is also the Czech word for “yes”.
Czech billionaire, Andrej Babis, and his wife Monika
The Prague Daily Monitor (PDM) reports that “ANO is the clear favourite of (sic) the election that will take place on Friday and Saturday. Opinion polls indicate that ANO is likely to win two times more votes than the CSSD, which may be narrowly overcome by the Communists (KSCM) and possibly even the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement of populist Tomio Okamura or the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS).”
In last night’s final one-and-a-half hour televised confrontation, Babis sparred with Foreign Minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, of the social democratic CSSD party. Behind in the polls, Zaoralek didn’t pull his punches “Zaoralek called Babis a parasite in connection with the work of the cabinet. ‘He pretends that all that was good about the government was him,’ Zaoralek said in reaction to Babis’s criticism of the outgoing government that comprises the CSSD, ANO and the smaller Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). Babis is a predator who insolently liquidated his competition, Zaoralek said. He said the financial authorities issued property-freezing orders that liquidated companies that were rivals of firms from the giant Agrofert holding (owned by Babis).”
Until May this year, Babis was Czech Finance Minister, but was forced to vacate the post by incumbent Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, due to “controversial financial transactions, alleged misuse of media against his political rivals and a suspected subsidy fraud.” Babis has been charged with transferring a 50 million koruna EU subisdy to one of his business interests. Babis claims that the allegations are untrue and deliberately made to remove him from politics.
Despite the allegations, Bloomberg reports that “the Slovak-born businessman solidified his popularity in the more than three years that he served as finance minister…Taking credit for the European Union’s lowest unemployment, one of its fastest rates of economic growth, and a balanced budget, Babis has portrayed himself as a competent manager struggling against traditional parties he brands as inept and corrupt. While that’s lifted his ANO party, his attacks against Muslim immigration and criticism of the EU have helped fuel the rise of anti-establishment political forces similar to Germany’s AfD and Austria’s Freedom Party. It’s also raised concern that he may follow the governments of Poland and Hungary, which have clashed with Brussels over democratic values.” One of Babis’s unconventional proposals is to make it compulsory for retailers to link cash registers to the Finance Ministry to increase revenue and reduce tax evasion.
Fraud charges aside, If Babis wins, it’s unlikely to be plain sailing for the new Prime Minister. The Bloomberg report quotes Prague-based political analyst, Jacob Charvat saying “It will be a very fragmented parliament, and it will make coalition talks difficult. There is also a great deal of personal animosity among politicians, which may complicate things further.” Based on last night’s TV debate, he’s not kidding.