Political scientist Jiří Pehe: Babiš must be feeling he has hit his limits

The communal and senatorial elections were seen as a test of strength of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ ANO party, which has dominated Czech national politics since winning last year’s parliamentary elections by a large margin. Although ANO scored in 11 big cities, its loss in the Czech capital, which Babiš considered all-important, has soured the party’s victory.

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal KamarytAndrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe about the winners and losers in this election and began by asking about the significance of ANO’s defeat in Prague.

“I think that Andrej Babiš is deeply unhappy with the results because he spent CZK 130 million, which is almost four times more than some other parties did. And he spent CZK 50 million in Prague alone, which is CZK 5 million more than the Civic Democratic Party spent in its nationwide campaign. With all of this money he didn’t manage to win Prague, so he must feel that he has hit his limits and must be deeply worried, because his strategy so far was to spend a lot of money and get results. Obviously just spending however, is not doing the job for him.”

The traditional left wing parties, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, have not had a good result and some have gone as far as to say that they are on their way out. What is your opinion on this? Is there a party replacing them?

“I think that ANO, by moving to the left in the last four years, has basically destroyed the Social Democratic electorate, or took it over, and the Communist electorate, to some extent, as well. We can see that especially these two parties have been deeply affected by the rise of ANO. It will be very difficult for the Social Democrats and Communists to come back, simply because their voters prefer the leftist populism of ANO and the image of Andrej Babiš as a leader. Those things account for the fact that both parties are in sharp decline. In fact I think they may disappear from the Czech Parliament.”

The Civic Democrats have hailed the elections as a success, claiming that the next general election will be decided between them and ANO, do you agree?

Jiří Pehe, photo: Jana Trpišovská / Czech RadioJiří Pehe, photo: Jana Trpišovská / Czech Radio “Not entirely. I think the Civic Democrats have improved their nationwide standing and of course they won in Prague, they also have 11 candidates in the second round of the elections. However, if you look at the second half of 2014, they have managed to increase the number of nationwide mandates by only 69. In fact you could argue that the Civic Democrats are stagnating.

“We should also not forget that what we need to look for are trends and I would argue that the dynamism of the Pirate Party is larger than that of the Civic Democrats. The latter managed to gain seven percent in comparison to 2014, whereas the Pirates, the second most successful party in Prague, have gained 12 percent, so obviously they appear to be a more dynamic party right now.”