Prague, Czech Republic – The victory of the so-called “democratic bloc” parliamentary alliance over Prime Minister Andrej Babis in the recent Czech elections is an encouragement to other opposition forces who hope to oust populist strongmen in Europe, analysts say.
The twin electoral coalitions that make up the democratic bloc – center-right Spolu and liberal PirStan – won 108 of the 200 seats in parliament last week.
This means that although Babis’ ANO party will control 72 seats, the populist billionaire has few options for building a functioning government.
After cooperating during the campaign to bring down Babis, pointing out the numerous financial scandals of the Prime Minister and, according to them, the disastrous handling of the pandemic, the five parties of the democratic bloc are already in deep discussions on the formation of a government between them.
However, the prime minister, whose enormous economic and media power and populist policies have helped keep the NOA in government for the past eight years, seems ready to try to test their unity.
He will depend on help from his ally, President Milos Zeman, although the health of the head of state is a major issue following his hospitalization in intensive care due to an undeclared “chronic condition” on October 10, a few days after the end of the elections.
If the president was too unfit to negotiate government negotiations, the democratic bloc would have a clearer path. However, Zeman’s camp says his condition has now stabilized and that he is monitoring the situation closely from his hospital bed in Prague.
Babis claims that minutes before Zeman was taken in an ambulance, he vowed to use his constitutional authority to re-elect the billionaire as prime minister.
It is suspected that the president and the prime minister will then likely try to prolong the negotiations in the hope of splitting the democratic bloc.
There are many divisions that could be exploited as the anti-Babis glue that kept the unity of the democratic bloc on track. through [though?] the countryside is weakening.
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the Eurosceptic and deeply conservative leader of the Spolu faction, has long been seen as a potential target. The potential for conflict with other members of the democratic bloc keen to adopt the euro, embrace EU climate change policies or legalize same-sex marriage is clear.
“These deep divisions were frozen during the campaign,” said Sean Hanley, associate professor of Central and Eastern European politics at University College London.
Marketa Adamova, leader of Top09, another of Spolu’s parties, admits that the quintet has “pulled our shots” in recent months, but insists the alliance will persist even without the common enemy.
Most analysts also expect the same; at least until a cabinet is formed.
Reversing the populist trend?
One element that helped cement solidarity during the campaign was the far-reaching support offered to Babis by Viktor Orban.
The praise that the Hungarian Prime Minister, and aspiring spiritual leader of illiberal populism in Central Europe, lavished on the Czech billionaire “frightened the opposition camp,” said political scientist Vladimira Dvorakova.
“The appearance of Orban mobilized the vote of the democratic bloc,” said Dvorakova. “People were alarmed that Babis wanted to take Czechia in the same direction that Orban took Hungary. “
But the loss of Babis is not the only blow to Orban’s dream of creating a regional hotbed of illiberal populism on October 9.
On the very day the Czech billionaire lost his footing, Sebastian Kurz was forced to step down as Austrian chancellor following a corruption scandal.
The synchronicity has only encouraged claims that Central Europe, freed from the influence of former US President Donald Trump, is now heading in a new direction.
The events “suggest that the populist wave in Eastern and Central Europe is receding, blocked by the growing unity of its opponents and a crisis of confidence following the defeat of the former US president,” wrote Andrew Higgins, chief of the New York bureau. York Times for Eastern and Central Europe.
It is claimed that the process began 18 months ago when Robert Fico, who had dominated Slovak politics for a decade, was replaced by a coalition of centrist and right-wing parties.
The success of the Democratic bloc in eliminating Babis is seen as another indicator, and even “a manual for the defeat of the populists and the illiberal” according to Jan Rovny, associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris.
It is a project that is currently being studied by the Hungarian opposition, he said.
After an unsuccessful effort to unite ahead of the last elections in 2018 resulted in a new constitutional majority for Orban, six disparate parties from the left, liberals and even the former far right are organizing to challenge the strong man in a vote next year.
However, Marton Gyongosi, vice-chairman of Jobbik, a party that says it is no longer far-right, says the Hungarian opposition cannot take instructions from the Czech elections because Orban has entrenched himself in a gerrymandered system.
While Babis controls a significant portion of the Czech media, he never mustered enough power to change electoral or judicial systems like his Hungarian counterpart did, analysts said.
“Nonetheless, seeing the downfall of any Orban ally offers hope for the cooperation of the Hungarian democratic opposition,” admits Gyongosi.
The embryonic collaboration between the Polish center-right opposition, which seeks to overthrow Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law & Justice (PiS) party, could benefit more from the Czech lessons, Hanley suggested.
“Babis was not overthrown by modern liberals like the Pirate Party, which failed in the election, but by traditional conservative parties,” he said. “The lesson is that the center-right is the key to defeating populism if it can avoid the temptation to move to the right to compete.”
“The unlikely hero in Czechia is ODS leader Petr Fiala, who has let his strongly conservative social views and Euroscepticism fade into the background to play the ‘sane captain’ of Czech politics.”
It remains to be seen whether the captain – most of whom predict he will inevitably become prime minister despite the efforts of Zeman and Babis – and his cronies will be able to maintain their unity and help the country recover from its bout of populism. .
The lesson from Slovakia, where the governing coalition continues to limp from crisis to crisis, suggests that once anti-popularist zeal has passed, the pressures of power quickly break up divisions.