Andrej Babiš was re-elected leader of his ANO party on Saturday, gaining the approval of 186 delegates gathered for the party's annual congress in Prague. Expressing surprise over his 100 percent victory, Mr. Babiš sounded a combative, partisan tone to the party faithful. The Finance Minister’s harshest words were targeted at his fellow coalition partners, the Social Democrats. I spoke with political analyst Jiří Pehe for his take on Babiš’s victory:
“It wasn’t surprising to me at all because he basically owns the movement. I thought that for the sake of public consumption it might have looked better if Mr. Babiš had managed to stage at least a small surprise, for example two or three people not voting for him.”
Is there a danger of building up a party based so strongly around one person?
“I think that ANO is not really a political party. What we have here is a one-man show. I think ANO’s congress reflected that. Also, Mr. Babiš doesn’t seem to be satisfied with just this one political grouping, but also seeks control over the media, and on top of that he is also the owner of one of the biggest companies in the Czech Republic [Agrofert].”
Following his re-election Andrej Babiš had some surprisingly strong words for his fellow coalition partners the Social Democrats – accusing them of building up an irresponsible state, wanting to raise taxes and so forth. What is the calculus behind him turning on members of his own governing coalition?
“I think there are two political strategies behind Mr. Babiš’s attacking of the Social Democrats. One is the goal to win [scheduled] parliamentary elections in 2017. And so his words were something of an early campaigning gimmick. He knows he has to stay in the government for the foreseeable future and cooperate with the Social Democrats, but at the same time, he had a stage in Prague on Saturday to make his views known, and that is what he did. Secondly, I think that Mr. Babiš would like to be able to govern through his party – or movement – alone. And so this was a strategy to put the Social Democrats down – they will have their own congress in one month, so I think this was something of a pre-emptive strike.”
Theoretically, one might assume that it would be a more logical fit for ANO to function in a coalition with right-of-centre parties such as TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats. But for some reason, both sides seem to be ruling that out.
“Given its increasingly rightist profile, ANO would obviously be better off in a coalition with the right-of-centre parties. But there are personal issues, especially between Mr. Babiš and Mr. Kalousek, the vice-chairman of TOP 09. And this makes any such co-operation impossible.
“I think that one of the reasons why Mr. Babiš so strongly attacked the Social Democrats and spoke about their ‘irresponsible spending’ and so on was also to profile his own party as a right-of-centre liberal movement. He wanted to give ANO a place on the political map, and also to get voters who in the past had voted for TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats. I think that the statements he made had two objectives – one was to weaken the Social Democrats and the second was to attract right-of-centre voters who are still supporting TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats.”
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