Christopher Benítez Cuartas
Czech voters gave Prime Minister Andrej Babiš a narrow surprise defeat on Saturday, October 9 during the country’s general election. Babiš and his party, ANO 2011, lost after the two partner parties in his coalition, the Communist and Social Democratic parties, failed to get elected according to the proportional representation system used to elect the lower chambers.
The victor of the night was the Civic Democratic Party, led by former education minister Petr Fiala, which is allied with the center-right parties Christian-Democratic Union and TOP 09. However, the election and formation of a new government are set to the backdrop of a hospitalized president, who cannot inaugurate the negotiations needed to formalize the governing coalition.
Radio Prague reports that President Milos Zeman was sent to Central Military Hospital in Prague on October 10, the day after the election results were announced. Miloš Vystrcil, the chair of the Senate, announced that the head of state is incapable of performing his duties. Details of Zeman’s condition are unknown. This apparent lack of transparency reminds some people of the Communist era, during which state media would report that purged politicians were “sick.”
President Zeman is known for chain-smoking and has appeared drunk in public on multiple occasions, including for a 2013 ceremony in which he was supposed to inspect the Czech crown jewels, as shown in a video by Canadian network Global News. He is also known for sporting a foreign policy friendly to Russia and China. The Associated Press reports that these allegations resurfaced in August when Zeman commented on investigations into the explosions at an armory in 2014. Zeman commented that the explosion, believed by Czech officials to have involved two Russian spies, may have simply occurred because of human error, leading to protests across the Czech Republic.
Zeman, a close ally of Prime Minister Babiš, was expected by some to let Babiš create a new government and keep himself in power. However, this suspicion was denied when Babiš conceded defeat. In his congratulation message to Fiala, Reuters reports Babiš as saying, “We didn’t expect to lose. We accept that,” and calling the results “excellent.”
Andrej Babiš was one of the many leaders implicated in the recent Pandora Papers, revealed by the ICIJ, which revealed that he bought a $22 million mansion in France through shell companies. According to Radio Prague, Babiš decried the release of the findings as a pre-election smear. Similar investigations have been carried out regarding conflicts of interest with his agricultural goods company, AgroFert, and how he was found to be subsidizing it using state funds, reports Politico.
Some Europeans have referred to Babiš, the leader of an explicit right-wing movement, as the “Czech Trump” due to his Euroscepticism and conservative stances on issues such as climate change, reports BBC News. Nonetheless, his two main coalition partners, the Communists and Social Democrats, failed to reach the five percent threshold that would have allowed Babiš to stay in power.
As illogical as this coalition sounds, with two far-left parties teaming up with a far-right government, it is not as simple as it looks. When talking to Radio Prague, left-wing analyst Daniela Vašátková noted that the coalition mostly involved the area of economics. When democracy first arrived in the Czech Republic, then Czechoslovakia, the traditional left parties, eager to clean up their communist-like image and improve the economy, sided with the business sector, which naturally leans right. She says, “Since then, socialists and social democrats started to lose their own identity, namely, to build for decades, regulate capitalism and protect those who are vulnerable.”
The surprise actor in recent Czech politics, however, is the Pirate Party, which has topped polls in the last several years. Reports from the Czech Statistical Office show that after clearing the threshold as a relatively unknown party in 2017’s election, the party spearheaded the motion to oust Babiš in a vote of no confidence. Originally made to protest copyright legislation, the party’s website shows that its platform relies on calls for transparency, “ecology without ideology,” and e-government—more access to state services online.