Thursday, 22 March 2018

HN: Babiš seeks early elections rather than majority government

14 March 2018

Prague, March 13 (CTK) - The goal of Andrej Babis, leader of the Czech election-winning ANO, seems to be the provoking of an early general election rather than forming a regular majority government with one or more partners, Petr Honzejk wrote in Hospodarske noviny on Tuesday.

Days, weeks and months have passed without the emergence of a new government that would replace Babis's single-party minority cabinet that was formed after the October elections but lost a confidence vote in parliament in January, when President Milos Zeman entrusted Babis with new government negotiations.

Even Zeman says he feels "slightly nervous" about the way Babis is conducting the talks, Honzejk writes.

Is Babis really so incompetent a negotiator? Maybe, but the truth may lie elsewhere. Maybe Babis does not want to strike a government cooperation deal with anybody and the negotiations he has been conducting may be a mere smoke screen covering up his goal to provoke an early general election, Honzejk writes.

Babis hopes his ANO might gain 35-40 percent in an early election, compared with its 30-percent gain in the October 2017 election. If so, he would become a genuine leader of Czechia, Honzejk writes.

This hypothesis may seem wild, but certain tendencies indicate it may be true. First, Babis has been repeating that the best variant is a single-party government, since it can work hard and be managed like a business, with himself as the boss, Honzejk writes.

Babis does not seem to be eagerly seeking a coalition partner, as such a partner would pose an obstacle to his management of the government as its boss. More probably, he will do his utmost to avoid a coalition governance, Honzejk writes.

Second, Babis has been conducting the government-forming talks in a chaotic way that looks like an attempt to apply the 'Brownian motion' (random motion of particles) to politics. Once he said the only variant is a government of ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD), supported by the Communists (KSCM), while on another occasion he said he would offer government cooperation to the Civic Democrats (ODS). In the meantime, he has discussed programme goals with the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) and backed the SPD's controversial chairman Tomio Okamura in the post of a lower house deputy chairman, Honzejk writes.

All this must make Babis's negotiating partners perplexed, he writes.

True, this may be Babis's tactic of exerting pressure on his potential government partners not to set excessive demands. Nevertheless, the goal of this intentionally stirred chaos can also be to annoy all and make them refuse to join a government of ANO. If so, this would enable him to accuse parties of shunning the government and to start seeking an early election, Honzejk writes.

Third, Babis's caretaker government behaves as if an election campaign were underway. It has approved a sharp increase in pensions, a 75-percent public transport fare discount for students and pensioners and at least "an optical" decline in the income tax. Simply, it is distributing abundant presents in order to buy voters' support. Simultaneously, its operation aimed to tame public Czech Television (CT) continues, since influential critical journalism could pose a problem for Babis's plans, Honzejk writes.

For the time being, the developments have been favourable for Babis. ANO's voter preferences have been rising, reaching 33 percent now, according to a STEM public opinion poll, while three minor democratic parties may fail to re-enter parliament if elections were held now. As a result, ANO could gain 15 more lower house seats, compared with its current 78, and form a cabinet with support from any other party, Honzejk writes.

This would be no problem, as Prague's foreign partners would come to terms with one extremist party keeping the Czech government afloat, Honzejk writes, alluding to the KSCM and the SPD, which previously showed willingness to do so in exchange for the government promoting their programme goals.

No chances seem to exist for the democratic parties to prevent the current trend, since they cannot compete with Babis's promises of the universal good for everybody and of a retaliation to all who are to blame for problems, Honzejk writes.

Rather irrationally, people believe in Babis's policy of universal good, and it is necessary to wait for them to see that the path is far from correct. As a populist, Babis can promote his plan to "do away with the hydra of corruption" without showing respect for the rule of law, something that non-populists can never do, otherwise they would deny the principles of liberal democracy, Honzejk writes.

Babis's goal seems to be an early election held simultaneously with the autumn Senate and local polls, in which he would try to considerably enlarge his power. He might quite probably succeed, Honzejk adds.

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