Andrej Babiš lost power as a result of the 2021 elections. The former billionaire Prime Minister experienced many challenges during his term and leading up to the election. Is his leadership tied to Czech Republic’s recent trend of democratic erosion and uptick of polarization, or is it merely the will of the people?
Former Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, ran off isolation and made people feel as if he were their only option, their “savior.” His campaign ran off fear-mongering tactics such as anti-immigration, criticism of a multicultural Czech Republic, higher pension, and anti-EU affairs. He was rightfully heavily criticized for raising public debt with his policies, which just so happened to benefit his business dealings and poor COVID-19 response.
Since 2017, the Czech Republic has been run by the minority center right populist party, ANO 2011. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was backed by a center-left party, led by interior minister Jan Hamáček. Throughout the 2021 election, both parties have faced heavy criticism and the doom of being removed from power. Although polls consistently ran in their favor, ultimately, they could not solidify the numbers to stay in control.
Their largest opposition was the liberal bloc, or coalition. Under this bloc, Mayors and Independents, i.e., STAN coalition agreed to start negotiations for an alliance in October of 2020. Members of the Pirate Party were not fond of this decision as they were split, with 51% of their members opposed and 43% in favor. The negotiation referendum was originally scheduled for early November 2020 but was then delayed to November 21-23rd. There was an 80% turnout with 695 members out of 858 in favor of starting negotiations to form an alliance.
Ivan Bartoš was nominated to be their elected leader, and he was confirmed on December 2nd, 2020. The Green Party was offered to join the alliance, but they declined.
Priorities were focused on lowering taxes, better availability of healthcare in the regions, climate change, and transparency within the government. They also agreed to support the adoption of the euro, controversial to the current Prime Minister’s stance, and education. The liberal bloc launched their campaign on May 18th, 2021, with the slogan “Let’s give the country back its future.”
Andrej Babiš’s rule also faced resistance from liberal conservatives (center right to right wing), right wing populists, and the center right, deemed the conservative bloc. It was decided that Petr Fiala was to be the next Prime Minister if they won.
Social democrats started to negotiate with the Green Party and other regional parties in early 2021; however, the Green Parties’ condition to join the alliance was that both parties would not form a government coalition with ANO 2011 after the election as the Green Party is center-left on the political spectrum.
Simply put, Andrej Babiš had a heck of a bridge to build to overcome the river of opposition he created.
Populism, Polarization, and the Deterioration of Democracy
Czech Republic democracy experienced democratic backsliding due to the populist regime that encouraged polarization by focusing their campaign on controversial issues that placed citizens in a divisive position. Ultimately, their focus on immigration and discontent with multiculturalism in the Czech Republic, pitching for prevention of a “Muslim Europe,” may have backfired and been the cause of their divide. These pitches work with older generations, but much like in countries worldwide, the growing generational divide in voters is pushing populist leaders and polarizing entities to the foyer as younger generations push for progressive changes.
The ANO 2011 party did not like the progressive stances of the center left and their looseness on immigration and legalization of drugs. They even attempted to link them and their coalition to “ANTIFA.” The communist left wing party then named their top five priorities to assist children in need following their branch off from interior minister Jan Hamáček in April of 2021, better conditions for life and safety, the right to a dignified life, and better environment, higher minimum wage, and shorter working shifts. They also wished to leave NATO to better their relations with countries of similar political structure, such as Russia and China.
Strategies to end the Suffering
Looking back, it was an extremely advantageous move for parties to form strong coalitions to oppose the populist rule. With the same end goal of a greater change, a compromise was essential in the process. Marie Jilkova, an anti-Babis candidate in South Moravia from one of the two coalitions of parties that joined forces to oppose the prime minister, stated that banding together to confront Mr. Babis and his party “was, for us, the only way to survive — there was no alternative.” While her party, the Christian Democrats with center right beliefs, differs on controversial issues like abortion and gay marriage, she said, “we agreed that we would not talk about these things during the campaign.” when referring to the anti-Babis conservative bloc that formed with Petr Fiala as their prospective leader. A smart move for the greater good, as a discussion of these issues, could have cost the election.
Andrej Babiš alienated many through his corporate ties and billionaire mindset, his appeal to older generations through promises of “tradition,” or others may call ethnocentrism, and higher pension simply wasn’t enough to seal the deal. His appearance in Pandora Papers detailing his property deals only made matters worse. Younger voters showed up, the generational divide between older generations voting towards the ruling coalition and younger voters wanting change was too much for Andrej Babiš’s weak campaign.
Ultimately, the smaller opposition won. They won the most votes but won one less seat than ANO 2011. Because of preference voting within their voting system, STAN won 33 seats, and the smaller center left party won only 4. This is the first time since the Third Czechoslovak Republic that a communist party would not be represented in the national parliament.
The media, much like in the US, ran with the idea of the election results being an upset and shock due to polling results previously showing to be against the opposition, showing ANO 2011 to be a presumed win. The center right coalition initially polled second, but the latest and last polls showed a surge of support for the party, although they still expected to lose.
The Supreme Administrative Court received 210 complaints about the election, once again much like the results of the US 2020 elections, with most of the complaints regarding the media and the favor towards certain parties. Other complaints targeted the unfairness of party coalitions formed to oppose the previous beloved Prime Minister. Then there were the covid-19, mask mandate complaints, that could have prevented voters from being able to vote. STAN also issued a complaint on misinterpreted election results, resulting in a misallocation of seats to ANO 2011. The court rejected all complaints 6 days before the deadline of November 11, 2021. With the election results in and a new Prime Minister Petr Fiala on the way to power, it’s clear that the mess Andrej Babiš made is not the will of the people, at least not of the younger, progressive generations.