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Czech parties doomed to lose to oligarchs in political race

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Prague, April 5 (CTK) – Czech traditional political parties find themselves in an unequal competition with oligarchs running political business, and it is easy to predict how the battle will end and what impact it will have on democracy in the country, Jiri Pehe wrote in daily Pravo on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s Social Democrats (CSSD) are the country’s strongest traditional party. However, the hundreds of millions of crowns the CSSD will have to pay to lawyer Zdenek Altner may knock it down, Pehe writes.

He alludes to a court verdict that binds the CSSD to pay Altner over 330 million crowns in reward for his services in the 1990s, including a contractual fine.

Another traditional party, the rightist Civic Democrats, former government leader now in opposition, is slowly recovering after several years on the verge of financial collapse, but still it is a mere shadow of what it used to be, Pehe writes.

Out of the other parties based on traditional principles, only the Communists (KSCM) and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) narrowly keep afloat, but they cannot afford any vast spending either, Pehe writes.

On the other hand, some new political entities, created by well-off entrepreneurs, face no such problems, he continues.

For example, the government ANO movement of Finance Minister Andrej Babis has been granted interest-free “loans” by Babis, its owner and billionaire businessman. Any time ANO succeeds, thanks to a massive campaign tailored to it by the best PR experts, Babis takes his investments back, Pehe writes.

Unlike CSSD leaders, who meet in the party’s indebted Lidovy dum headquarters in Prague, ANO leaders hold meetings in the luxurious seats of Babis, the oligarch, some of which may be EU-subsidised, owing to [Babis’s] skills as a businessman, Pehe writes, alluding to a recent scandal over the suspicious subsidies to Babis’s Stork Nest complex.

The traditional parties are forced to apply more difficult methods in search of money. If such a party fails in one election, which means a sharp decline in the state subsidies to it, as it happened to the KDU-CSL in 2010, it is ripe for “being written off,” Pehe writes.

At the same time, the oligarchs entering Czech politics are critical of what they call corruption in parties’ financial management. However, in a situation where the oligarchs can run their businesses without any limitations, any step the traditional parties take to make their financing more transparent puts them into disadvantage, Pehe writes.

Last year, the CSSD reached a decent budget surplus of 27 million crowns. However, the recent verdict in its dispute with Altner has knocked it down, Pehe writes.

Of course, the enormous fine for the CSSD is also due to mistakes made by concrete people at the party’s head. The mistakes, however, largely result from the fact that parties still desperately seek money and permanently have to consider what to pay and to whom, Pehe writes.

The court verdict thus underlines the growing problem faced by the traditional parties. The public supposes them not to be influenced by powerful economic players and calls for the state to reduce its subsidies going to parties, Pehe writes.

At the same time, the traditional parties are left tackling their unequal competition with oligarchs-businessmen and elected politicians in the top post whose campaigns have been financed by opaque sponsors, Pehe writes.

It is easy to predict how the duel will end. Unfortunately, it is also far from difficult to imagine what consequences this will have for the functioning of democracy, Pehe adds.

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