Thursday, December 9

Andrej Babis believes he has a secret weapon in the Czech elections: Viktor Orban

In the election campaign ahead of this weekend’s general election in the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis nailed his anti-immigrant credentials by parading around his apparent friend, his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.

In early September, the couple met in Budapest before traveling together to Hungary’s border fence with Serbia, built after the 2015 migration crisis. Babis promised to support Orban’s anti-immigrant efforts by possibly sending a few hundred Czech soldiers on patrol. the border fence. “There is no will in the EU to protect the border,” he said.

A few weeks later, Orban joined Babis in the election campaign in Usti nad Laben, the northern city of the Czech Republic where Babis is running for the local seat. “We work together for our national interests” in the EU, Babis said after introducing Orban at a joint press conference, to which several journalists were forcibly denied entry.

On the surface, they appear to be strange bedfellows. Babis was born in what is now Slovakia and what was before 1917 “Upper Hungary”, an area of ​​interest in Orban’s irredentist ideal for restoring “Greater Hungary.”

The Orban government has described itself as a “Christian democracy,” while Babis rules the second least religious country in Europe, according to the latest Pew Research polls.

Orban’s Fidesz party now rules Hungary in what analysts describe as a “soft autocracy” or “competitive authoritarianism.” But Babis’ ruling ANO party barely survived as a minority government after 2018 and has been frequently challenged by the Czech constitution.

In the EU, Babis’ ANO party is in the bloc of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which has taken firm positions against Orban’s attacks on the rule of law.

Despite all that, Babis has stated on many occasions that he considers Orban a close friend and friend who can help the current Czech prime minister on the electoral track, said Lubomir Kopecek, a professor of political science at Masaryk University.

“Babis needs support in the election campaign and Orban is someone who [is seen as] successfully fighting immigration, an important theme of ANO’s campaign, ”added Kopecek.

During a meeting between the two prime ministers in 2018, Babis also sought to polish his anti-immigrant credentials. “I think it was the two of us, especially Mr. Orban, who first critically highlighted the problem of migration and quotas in Europe,” he said.

Kopecek added that now it is also difficult to get a well-known European politician to attend an ANO campaign rally and “Orban is one of the few exceptions.”

A recent European Commission audit found that Babis was in conflict of interest because his vast Agrofert conglomerate accepted EU subsidies. Investigations into the alleged corrupt activities of Babis are also active in the Czech Republic.

Pandora Papers

Additional controversy sparked this month when Pandora Paper leaks raised questions about how Babis bought a 15 million euro mansion in the south of France.

Babis is seeking a second term in office but faces an uphill battle as his current political partners are expected to lose seats or even fail to enter parliament, which could leave him fighting for new allies after this end’s vote. of week.

Reports suggest it may have to rely on the country’s two main illiberal parties, the far-right Libertad y Democracia Directa (SPD) party, which will come in fourth with 10-11% of the vote, and the Far-left Communist Party. of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which has informally supported the Babis government in parliament since 2018.

However, there is a suspicion that Babis views Orban as more than just a useful anti-migrant icon to feature in an election speech.

Babis has always wanted to “centralize power and remove checks and balances,” said Sean Hanley, associate professor of Central and Eastern European politics at University College London.

“He clearly admired Orban’s ability to be a disruptor who can make decisions and rule Hungary without the need to consult with coalition partners or deal with independent institutions,” he added.

His political rivals did not overlook his fondness for Orban’s political style. “[Orban] liquidate free media, liquidate the opposition, free enterprise, spy on journalists … That policy is the model for Andrej Babis, “said Ivan Bartos, leader of the rival alliance Pirates and Mayors, in a post on social networks after the last Babis-Orban meeting. month.

On the eve of the elections, all eyes are also on another Czech politician who has a much longer friendship with Orban, President Milos Zeman, who will play a decisive role in what is expected to be a close vote.

Zeman shares pro-China and pro-Russia sentiments with Orban, and both are known for their illiberal rhetoric. In June, Zeman sparked a controversy for calling transgender people “disgusting” and for defending a recent law passed in Hungary that prohibits public representation of homosexuality. “I don’t see any reason to disagree with him,” Zeman said of Orban’s law.

Although Babis’ ANO party leads the polls, it likely won’t get enough seats to govern alone and its current coalition partner, the Social Democrats (CSSD), is expected to either miss out on parliament or lose seats on the downside. camera.

Zeman, whose health is also up for debate on the eve of the elections, has already hinted that he wants Babis to form the next government.

“Zeman will appoint Babis prime minister, even if Babis finishes second, because Zeman insists that electoral coalitions are not legitimate,” Jiri Pehe, political analyst and director of the Prague campus of New York University, told Euronews.

According to the latest opinion polls, the two new political alliances formed this year, SPOLU and Pirates and Mayors, are expected to finish second and third, respectively.

Czechs and scales

As head of state, Zeman is tasked with appointing an incoming prime minister who must then go to parliament to receive a vote of confidence. Without ANO’s current partners, that could be an uphill struggle.

Zeman has reportedly lobbied Babis to agree to an informal deal with the far-right SPD, which may agree to informally endorse ANO in parliament, as the KSCM has done since 2018.

If that fails, Zeman could allow Babis to remain prime minister without the backing of parliament, triggering a constitutional crisis that can last more than a year, perhaps even until the next presidential election in January 2023.

“In theory, there is nothing to stop Zeman from keeping Babis as interim prime minister by not nominating another prime minister for an extended period,” said Hanley of University College London.

Opposition leaders have threatened that if this happens, they will try to remove Zeman from office by motion in the Senate. But the outcome of such an attempt is uncertain and would likely take months to be debated by the Constitutional Court.

“If Babis ends up in a coalition or the like, which means it is political for him to extol his centrist, pragmatic and reformist credentials, we would see and hear much less of his admiration for Orban,” Hanley said.

But, he added, if Babis is in a power struggle and feels that he has to take control of institutions in a much more aggressive way to defend his own interests, “we could see a degree of ‘orbanization'”.

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