Czechs Dump the Political Establishment in Favor of a Magnate
Andrej Babis now faces the tricky task of assembling a coalition from a fractured Parliament
The Czech Republic’s second-richest citizen, who has pledged to upend the country’s constitutional order and boost executive authority, won a legislative election on Saturday, as a breakdown in political consensus sent a record number of parties to parliament.
With 99% of ballots counted, the Ano party led by Andrej Babis —a 63-year-old agricultural tycoon who has promised to abolish the Czech senate and a rewrite the country’s election laws—had 30% of the vote. The ruling Social Democratic Party took just 7%, while support surged for a series of minor parties.
As he voted, Mr. Babis—who has also called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, friendlier ties with Russia and a more defiant attitude toward the European Union—called his victory a triumph over the establishment.
“We want to defeat this clientelistic-corruption system,” he said.
Mr. Babis now faces the challenge of assembling a coalition from the most fractured Parliament in Czech history. Nine parties, the most ever, won seats, including the Pirate Party, which believes in internet-based direct democracy and was roughly tied for second at 11% with the center-right Civic Democratic Party.
One of the few points of broad consensus in the legislature is that Mr. Babis shouldn’t be prime minister.
Last month, Parliament voted almost unanimously to strip Mr. Babis of his judicial immunity as a fellow member, clearing the way for courts to prosecute him for charges of fraud he denies.
Some members worry about the unprecedented power that voters have given a magnate who already owns several of the country’s top media outlets.
“I cannot imagine [the country’s center-right Civic Democratic Party] will be in government with Ano, with or without Babis as the prime minister,” said the party’s shadow speaker for EU affairs, Adela Kadlecova. “I am also of the opinion, that a criminally charged politician should not become a prime minister.”
Both the Pirate Party and the fiscal-conservative TOP party, upstart parties that boosted support in the election, ruled out joining a coalition with Mr. Babis.
“We will absolutely try to make a coalition of democratic parties against all populists, extremists and oligarchs,” said TOP’s deputy chairman, Marketa Adamova. “I wish to be able to make a democratic coalition against all those parties.”
A generation of political leaders in what was once the communist half of Europe, Mr. Babis included, have come to question the value of liberal democracy—with its checks and balances and susceptibility to parliamentary and judicial gridlock—lamenting it as an impediment to ambitious reform.
Since July, Poland’s ruling party has been trying to pass a law that would have, in its first draft, fired every judge on the Supreme Court. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also moved to curb the authority of his courts and Parliament.
Now that project moves to the Czech Republic, a former Soviet satellite state where Mr. Babis made some $4 billion since the end of communism and which has had nine governments in the past 15 years.
In his book, “What I Dream About When I Happen to Be Sleeping,” Mr. Babis proposed abolishing the senate and many regional-level positions, and turning the election system into a first-past-the-post setup. He repeatedly criticized the long wait times the government requires to plan, approve and build new roads.
“We just celebrated the completion of a highway that took 37 years,” Mr. Babis complained at one recent rally.