Affair unlikely to disappear any time soon, says analyst ahead of key test for PM Babiš

19-11-2018

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš faces a test this week, with his government set to face a no-confidence vote on Friday. The vote follows a scandal involving Mr. Babiš’s son, who says he was forcibly taken to Crimea. The PM attempted to smooth over the scandal by visiting his son in Switzerland at the weekend – but the whole affair may not die away any time soon.

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal KamarytAndrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt Last Monday, a report by Seznam Zprávy sparked a government crisis. It featured journalists speaking to Andrej Babiš Jr., one of the main witnesses in a fraud case currently centred on his father, who stands accused of corruption.

Babiš Jr. said he had been taken to Crimea against his will, at a time when his father wanted him to “disappear”.

While protesters in Prague on Saturday were calling for Andrej Babiš’s resignation, he had travelled to Switzerland to talk to his son and ex-wife for the first time since the affair broke. On Sunday, the prime minister’s ex-wife read a statement on TV Nova, in which she condemned the Seznam report and asked journalists to leave her family alone.

“Despite the fact that I warned reporters Slonková and Kubík that my son was ill and that an interview with him was not an option, they used a hidden camera to record and publicize our discussion. They used suggestive questions to frame the interview in a way that was damaging towards Andrej Babis Sr. and scandalised our family.”

Also on TV Nova, the prime minister said in a half-hour interview that his son was still convinced his stay in the Crimea was involuntary.

Andrej Babiš Jr., photo: Seznam.cz, Vít Klusák, Filip RemundaAndrej Babiš Jr., photo: Seznam.cz, Vít Klusák, Filip Remunda “When we saw each other I explained to him what is going on, that journalists are trying to create a rift between father and son. I was explaining this, but he remains convinced that the trip to Russia was involuntary.”

Meanwhile, the opposition is trying to gather enough votes to win a no-confidence vote against the government on Friday and votes from the Social Democrats, who are in government, are seen as key for success.

Political scientist Petr Just says the Social Democrats are facing a difficult dilemma.

“On one side they want to stay in the coalition because they know there is at least one party, Tomio Okamura’s SPD, that wants to replace them. So in case they withdraw from the government they will lose the chance to be a party of power and of course every party wants to have executive power. On the other hand, they are in government with a person who is under investigation and is very controversial, so the Social Democrats are seen as the ones who are keeping Mr. Babiš in politics.”

President Zeman has said that even if the government were toppled he would ask Mr. Babiš to form a new one and govern in resignation for a few month, until “hot heads cool down”.

Petr Just, photo: archive of Charles UniversityPetr Just, photo: archive of Charles University Whatever ends up happening, Mr. Just says that the media controversy surrounding Mr. Babiš’s affairs is unlikely to calm down any time soon, as it did in the cases of some past Czech prime ministers, who chose to step down.

“I don’t believe this case will be the same as similar ones in the past. That it will just disappear after a few weeks. We should also have in mind that according to the police and prosecution sources the case should be ready for court submission by the end of the year, so we can expect all of these issues will reopen late this year or early next year when it starts being solved on the level of court.”

19-11-2018