Sunday, 22 October 2017

Respekt: Babiš seeks allies in other parties

ČTK |
17 January 2017

Prague, Jan 16 (CTK) - Finance Minister Andrej Babis has been seeking allies in other Czech parties to avoid the scenario that his ANO movement would fail to find coalition partners after the autumn general election, which it is likely to win, Erik Tabery writes in weekly Respekt out on Monday.

The billionaire Babis is the most popular politician in the country, his party is the election favourite and his opponents in fact turn into figures that confirm his power.

Babis attracts people since it seems apparent that he will be the winner. If anything stands in his way, Babis runs over it with ease. When his aides tell him that a pop singer, athlete, intellectual or marketer should stand next to him, Babis acquires such a person in the same way as if he was shopping in a supermarket, Tabery writes.

Before the election, Babis is in a situation similar to Donald Trump who said his voters would keep supporting him even if he shot somebody dead, Tabery writes.

He says the only thing that might happen is that ANO would win the election to the Chamber of Deputies, but other parties would form a coalition government without it. As Babis is aware of this risk, he is making allies in other parties, Tabery writes.

After the regional elections last autumn, Babis went to South Bohemia to guarantee that ANO makes a pact with the Social Democrats (CSSD) and Jiri Zimola (CSSD) keeps the post of the region's governor. Zimola is currently an ally of President Milos Zeman and the strongest opponent of Prime Minister and CSSD chairman Bohuslav Sobotka. Zimola even rebuked Sobotka for the criticism of Babis, Tabery writes.

He says the Social Democrats are not likely to be very successful in the forthcoming elections and one may expect the situation in the party to follow a model similar to the developments after the 2013 general election when President Zeman tried to unseat Sobotka.

The president has a rather strong influence on the formation of a new government and he can easily make life hard for Sobotka and improve Babis's position, Tabery writes.

Babis has been seeking future allies not only in the CSSD but also among the Christian Democrats (junior ruling KDU-CSL). He has close relations with fresh regional governor Jiri Cunek, former KDU-CSL leader and deputy prime minister. A few years ago Babis even tried to make Cunek join ANO and Cunek has not forgotten this, Tabery writes.

He says Babis's predominant position on the domestic political scene is also illustrated by the approach that Zeman and Vaclav Klaus Junior (right-wing opposition Civic Democrats, ODS) take to him. Both Zeman and Klaus Jr attack nearly everybody - the European Union, the right-wing TOP 09, migrants, intellectuals, journalists, nongovernmental organisations. Yet they never strongly attack Babis.

Babis and Klaus Jr know very well that next to Babis they look like a Chihuahua next to a Saint Bernard dog. Both of them are well aware that their political career may rely on Babis's success, Tabery writes.

If Zeman tries to defend his presidential post next year, support from Babis will be very important for him. ANO has a lot of voters and Babis might also contribute financially to his campaign. It would even suffice if ANO did not field a strong presidential candidate of its own, Tabery writes.

Though the political career of Klaus Jr, 47, is at its beginning and he still is not sure to be among the ODS election candidates, the Civic Democrats speak of him as a future leader. Klaus Jr's blog and comments on the social networking sites, which are very much like those of Zeman, have hundreds of thousands of readers, Tabery writes.

He says one can easily imagine Klaus Jr criticising present ODS chairman Petr Fiala after the autumn election for the party's poor election result and persuading the ODS leadership to join a government led by Babis. "If somebody always wants to be absolutely principled, they should become journalists, activists or do-gooders. The purpose of politics is to influence affairs," Tabery quotes Klaus Jr as saying.

All the above politicians who are ready to ally with Babis have one thing in common: they approach politics like Trump, in a very pragmatic manner, considering it first of all an opportunity to seize power. Right-wing or left-wing is not important for them. The dividing line seems to be personal relations, or rather aversion to certain people or a certain way of life, Tabery writes.

Warnings against the increase of Babis's strong power will have a very limited impact, like in case of Trump. This is not only because ANO has a lot of money and media outlets that support it, but also because the Czech political opposition uses outdated weapons against Babis. His rivals claim that Babis joined politics to steal from the state, but this is not true. Babis uses his power to improve the position of his firms, yet he is not stealing, Tabery writes.

Babis is seeking the biggest possible control of power rather than financial profit. He considers himself a missionary, a father of the nation who wants to help the Czech Republic, like it or not, Tabery writes.

The problem with Babis is that he has no programme and no values to stick to, that he is ready to cooperate with anybody who respects him and that his party colleagues obey his orders. If anybody disagrees with him, Babis considers him an enemy, Tabery writes.

Until now, the ANO movement has not been the strongest party in the government. If this happens after the autumn election, will Babis start acting without scruples? Will he change the rules of the system to keep in power? Tabery writes.

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