Czech elections: opinion polls, key questions and everything you need to know
Who wins next month’s general election in the Czech Republic could be the least interesting event on the country’s political calendar this year, with rumors of possible post-election alliances and whether Prime Minister Andrej Babis could be forced to resign even if his ruling party retains power.
Earlier this year, it looked like Czech politics were heading for a major upheaval in the October general election, which will see for the first time large political coalitions compete for power.
From January to early June, almost all polls placed the opposition coalition led by the Pirate Party by several percentage points ahead of the ANO, the party founded by Babis and currently in power. In May, for example, the new alliance Pirates and Mayors won 27% of the votes cast, compared to just 21% for Babis’ ANO party.
But the latest polls show ANO’s popularity has increased since the summer: a combination of the Czech Republic overcoming the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and more masterly management by the ruling party of the pre-election campaign, according to analysts.
Kantar CZ, a pollster, now places ANO at 27.5% of the vote, compared to just 21% for the Pirate Coalition and about as much for the center-right alliance SPOLU, one member of which is the Civic Democratic Party ( ODS), currently the largest opposition party.
“Most Czechs are really tired of the epidemic and don’t want to think too much about the more than 30,000 dead from the spring wave of coronavirus,” said Ivana Karaskova, of the Association for International Affairs in Prague.
“In the spring, the government was criticized for acting chaotically and even minimizing the epidemic and for not being able to provide sufficient quantities of vaccines to the population,” she added.
“The ANO polls reflected popular discontent and the Prime Minister’s popularity plummeted as a result. “
At the start of 2021, the Czech Republic had one of the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates in the world. However, after strict restrictions were imposed and the country’s vaccination campaign normalized, it was the fourth least affected country in the EU at the end of August.
“Current opinion polls reflect the general feeling of the population that the country is recovering and that it must move forward,” Karaskova said.
According to Lubomir Kopecek, professor of political science at Masaryk University, Babis’ ANO party also succeeded in bringing different topics into the electoral game. Given that half of its electoral base is made up of seniors, ANO’s campaign has focused on how it has increased pensions since taking office in 2017.
Babis also played the migration card, Kopecek said, which has attracted support and created a problem for the Pirate Party, seen by some as “too friendly” towards immigration.
The Pirate Party has also come under attack in the press, some of which belong to Babis, for being part of an alleged “awakened” and “Marxist” campaign to change Czech traditions.
It is currently the second largest opposition party and has been widely criticized, even by its supporters. He has been attacked for campaign errors, from poor messaging to too many manifesto policies.
“[Babis’] campaign is more direct, less nuanced and to some extent even stereotypical, which resonates well with its electorate. The opposition has struggled to adapt to this style so far, ”Karaskova said.
Given the latest opinion polls as well as anecdotal voter sentiment, analysts believe the NOA is likely to win next month’s general election, which is slated for October 8. But there is much greater uncertainty as to what will happen after the election.
The first question is what happens if ANO actually wins the popular vote. Czech electoral rules make it incredibly unlikely that he could form a majority government on his own, just as he was unable to do after the 2017 poll.
However, the junior partner of the current ANO coalition government, the Social Democrats (CSSD), are expected to lose many of their seats in October. The latest polls only have them over 3.5% of the popular vote, down from the 7.3% they won in the 2017 poll.
Until the start of this year, ANO’s coalition government also depended in parliament on the support of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which is also set to lose seats in October.
This means that the ANO will have to seek new coalition partners if it is to form a coalition deal after the October elections, which can be a daunting task for a populist party without traditional allies.
It is also foreseeable that one of the two main coalitions, the Pirates and Mayors and SPOLU, could attempt to form a coalition government on its own even if it does not come out on top in the popular vote.
However, President Milos Zeman has already hinted that the winner of the poll will have the first chance to form a coalition government.
Prague Vineyard has long chatted that Babis may one day be forced to strike a deal with the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, which currently votes around 10% of the popular vote and will likely control a significant number of seats in parliament after October.
Babis rejected any suggestion of forming a government with the SPD, while the far-right party also said it had no interest in being a junior partner in a coalition.
“The SPD may be the supporting party for a minority ANO government, but not a classic coalition partner,” Kopecek believes. This means that the SPD could support in parliament a coalition government led by the ANO – just as the Communists have done since 2017 – but without officially joining the government.
“Babis would not be enthusiastic about the cooperation with the SPD, but if he has no other possibility, it is possible,” Kopecek added.
Karaskova said it was also possible for Babis’ ANO party to strike a coalition deal with the ODS, the country’s traditional center-right party formed after the fall of communism in 1989.
ODS, led by intellectual Petr Fiala, also rejected suggestions that he would cooperate with the ANO. He will participate in the October elections as part of the tripartite alliance SPOLU, with the Christian-Democrat KDU-CSL and the centrist TOP 09.
However, the ODS could agree to work in coalition with the ANO on condition that Babis does not remain prime minister, Karaskova speculated.
Babis’ possible retirement as prime minister is the other wild card in the October general election, with analysts predicting he could choose to step down even if his ANO party wins the ballot.
On the one hand, it could be done for simple electoral calculations. In the event that the ODS or another traditional political party agrees to cooperate with the ANO in a formal coalition, it is highly likely that they would only do so if Babis were not Prime Minister.
Kopecek speculated that Babis might in fact want to step down as prime minister out of personal interest. It has also been rumored for a long time that Babis would prefer to step down from the leadership of the government in order to prepare a candidacy for the presidential election of 2023.
More pressing are its economic interests. Before entering politics as finance minister in 2014, Babis was a prominent businessman in the Czech Republic, becoming the second richest man in the country through his vast conglomerate Agrofert Group.
As of 2015, however, he has been investigated by local authorities as well as European investigators for alleged corruption and fraud of EU grants.
In April, an audit by the European Commission found that Babis had violated conflict of interest rules regarding its control of trust funds linked to its Agrofert business empire. The move could force the Agrofert conglomerate to return all EU subsidies granted after February 2017, which amount to around € 11 million.
In July, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hinted that the € 7 billion in grants the EU has allocated to the Czech Republic as part of Brussels’ COVID stimulus package could be suspended due to investigations into Babis’ allegations. conflict of interest.
Skeptics say Babis used his political power to help his businesses and would now prefer to step aside to limit the financial damage. “Financially, it’s a very unpleasant situation for him; it’s really a lot of money, ”he said.
According to Karaskova, Babis could quit his post as prime minister in exchange for a new government that fails to investigate the myriad corruption allegations made against him and his companies. This could be the deciding factor in any possible post-election talks between the ANO and the ODS, she said.
Overall, the intrigue of Czech politics this year may not be so much who wins the next election, but what goes on behind the scenes in Prague in the days following the election. “Babis’ retention as prime minister is very uncertain, although the ANO will likely win the election,” Kopecek said.
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