Babish admitted the loss on Saturday evening. The sensitive defeat shakes the populist prime minister. Early this week, his ANO (“Yes”) party won a modest election victory. The disclosure of the Pandora Papers about a French mansion he bought through an offshore company does not appear to affect his popularity just before the election. The bad Corona policy and the scandals surrounding his company, Agrofert, did not affect the political reputation of the prime minister and billionaire.
But it now appears that the Czech opposition has outdone Babis with a new strategy. In this election, the smaller opposition parties united for the first time into two coalition blocs, which announced in advance that they would not govern with the ANO. They wanted to join forces to challenge the 5 percent electoral threshold and take a stand against the populist heavyweight Babes.
They succeeded: the center-right coalition SPOLU (“Together”) managed to overtake ANO after the neck-and-neck race by only 35,000 votes – 27.8 to 27.1 percent of the vote. The other alliance, Piráti + STAN, achieved 15.6 percent. Then there is the radical right Social Democratic Party (9.6 per cent) – no other party has reached the electoral threshold.
The political scene now consists of four parties. President Milos Zeman has a clear preference. Before the elections, he had already announced that he would order the largest party to form a government. In his opinion, this ANO – Zeman still does not recognize the SPOLU alliance as a single party. Babish was summoned to the presidential castle on Sunday morning. “We are the strongest party,” he said Saturday evening. “If the president asks me to form a government, I will start negotiations.”
But Zeeman’s support provides only limited protection for Babies. The health of the 77-year-old president has been ailing for some time, as evidenced by his recent week-long hospital stay, which has been shrouded in mystery. And most importantly, with whom should Babish rule? The radical right Social Democrats want to work with the ANO only on the condition of holding a referendum on the Czech withdrawal from the European Union: an unattractive prospect. Moreover, with 92 seats out of 200, they do not have a majority. A minority government is an option, but it must have the confidence of the majority in Parliament.
The SPOLU alliance with the Piráti-STAN alliance is expected to win a majority of 108 seats. “The two democratic alliances have a majority,” said SPOLU leader Fiala. He wants to attract the formation and said he will hold talks with the other coalition within 24 hours. As long as Zeman and Babish do not give up, a Saab formation awaits us. And Babish indicated, on Saturday evening, that the formation of the government took eight months after the previous elections.
The Czech elections show that a strategy of collective action can work well for the opposition. A development that is probably watching with great interest in Hungary, and a little further in the region. There, too, the opposition operates as a single bloc. Next week they will choose a candidate to face Viktor Orban in April 2022.
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