Monday, November 29

Czech elections: meet the new anti-corruption party that wants to clean up the Czech Republic

In the days leading up to the October 8-9 general elections in the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis faced new scrutiny for alleged corruption.

Babis, the second richest person in the Czech Republic and whom the European Commission recently found to be in conflict of interest over his business, he is now under pressure to explain a complicated offshore structure he used to buy a 15 million euro mansion in the south of France., as revealed in the “Pandora Papers”, the greatest treasure trove of leaked extraterritorial data to date.

During a televised election debate over the weekend, he blamed the “Czech mafia” for allegations involving the purchase of a house that he said dated back to 2009. On Sunday night, he tweeted that he thought the reports were they posted intentionally days before next week. general election to undermine his campaign.

In recent months, Babis’ ruling ANO party has skyrocketed in the polls. Their support dropped to near-record lows in early 2021 due to the regrettable pandemic history of the Czech Republic, when it had one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world.

But ANO’s popularity has rebounded as most lockdown measures were lifted in the summer and infection numbers remain relatively low.

The latest poll by STEM, a local pollster, gives ANO 27.3% of the vote, about six percentage points ahead of the second-place SPOLU alliance, formed earlier this year by three parties. , including the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), currently the largest opposition party.

The STEM poll also ranks the anti-corruption party Prisaha (or “Oath”) in sixth place with 5.7% of the vote, its highest tally in months and enough to enter parliament.

The October 8-9 elections are expected to be close. No clear winner is projected, and some analysts predict a protracted post-election showdown between the major parties as each tries to form a government. A full-blown constitutional crisis is possible.

The new party trying to keep corruption in Czech

One of the biggest breakthroughs could be the success of Prisaha, formed earlier this year by a retired organized crime investigator Robert Slachta.

It is one of a new generation of single-issue anti-corruption parties that have emerged in recent years in Central and Eastern Europe.

In last year’s general elections in neighboring Slovakia, which seceded from the Czech Republic in 1993, the anti-corruption party of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) came out of nowhere to win the ballot, launching a campaign against corruption that has seen a widespread cleansing of the Slovak bureaucracy and judiciary.

Ivana Karaskova, from the Association for International Affairs in Prague, said that anti-corruption narratives have a long history in Czech politics.

“ANO has won the elections on the pretext that Babiš is not part of the system and that it would take care of [a] corrupt political elite, ”he said, referring to the party’s victory in the 2017 elections when it campaigned heavily on an anti-corruption platform.

“Corruption as an issue, be it real or imagined, seems to resonate well with the electorate and Prisaha is just one of the political subjects who discovered it,” Karaskova said.

The Czech Republic ranked last in an assessment of 42 countries by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO for not following its recommendations since 2019. It also ranked 49th out of 180 countries in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International.

According to the Global Corruption Barometer report by the same organization, published in June, about 69% of Czechs said their government performed poorly in the fight against corruption, the third worst score in the EU. At the end of 2019, more than 300,000 Czechs demonstrated against Babis’s alleged corruption in what were the largest protests since the fall of communism in 1989.

According to the latest opinion polls, Prisaha now has more support than most other small parties and could even beat the Social Democrats (CSSD), the center-left group that was once dominant in the country and could not this year. get seats in parliament.

Slachta came to the public’s attention as head of the Organized Crime Unit, and his investigations into official corruption toppled the coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Necas in 2013. His autobiography, Thirty Years Under Oath, of which his New Party takes its name, it was a best-seller when it was published last year.

But questions remain as to whether Prisaha can maintain her position over the next week, especially when pollsters find that roughly a third of voters are still undecided.

“Prisaha has voters whose relationship with the party is very weak and uncertain,” said Lubomir Kopecek, professor of political science at Masaryk University.

Analysts estimate that many of Prisaha’s early supporters were former voters for the ruling ANO party, which declined in opinion polls for most of 2021.

A recent poll by Kantar CZ and Data Collect, two local pollsters, claimed that Prisaha has an electoral potential of up to 9.5 percent, higher than current opinion polls that are slightly skewed by the significant number of unengaged voters. among the Czechs. electorate.

There are also some questions about whether a single-issue party led by a charismatic figure is the proper way to fight endemic corruption.

“Corruption is a strong issue in Czech politics and Czech democracy is still quite immature,” said Jiri Pehe, political analyst and director of the New York University campus in Prague. “So there are still enough people attracted to parties led by strongmen, who promise to use their power to fight corruption and other social ills,” he added.

Corruption allegations against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis

What’s more, without a change in leadership in the Czech Republic, analysts estimate that there will be little progress in anti-corruption efforts.

“Elections and political will are the foundations on which an anti-corruption campaign begins,” said Richard Q. Turcsanyi, associate professor at Mendel University in Brno.

If Babis is re-elected and President Milos Zeman is willing to protect him, it is very difficult to imagine any success for an anti-corruption campaign against people related to the leadership, he added.

For years, analysts have alleged that President Zeman, who is also being persecuted on corruption allegations, has pulled strings to stop investigations into Babis’ business affairs. Zeman has also said that it will give Babis a chance to form the next government, even if one of the two opposition alliances wins the next election.

Most of the accusations against Babis stem from his ownership of the conglomerate Agrofert, one of the largest firms in the Czech Republic. In the past, the Czech police investigated an alleged misuse of EU subsidies to finance the Agrofert-owned hotel-resort “Stork’s Nest”, although these have been removed.

In April this year, an audit by the European Commission found that Babis had violated the bloc’s conflict of interest rules when his company received EU subsidies while he was prime minister.

It found that it was still directing the company’s decisions even though it had formally placed its assets in blind trust funds, and Agrofert was ordered to repay 17 million euros in subsidies it had taken from the European bloc.

This could have major ramifications for the Czech Republic, as the European Commission hinted earlier this year that it could face delays in accessing vital EU funds until the government advances its anti-corruption efforts. The Czech Republic has been a net beneficiary of EU funds since joining the bloc in 2004.

It could also have broader ramifications for Babis himself. Analysts have speculated that if ANO loses power after next weekend’s elections, the next government could restart national police investigations into Agrofert de Babis and his alleged corrupt dealings.

Although his ANO party is broadly inclined to win the elections that start on Friday, it is highly unlikely that he will win enough seats in parliament to be able to govern alone and his current allies are fading in the polls.

The Social Democrats, the junior partner in ANO’s ruling coalition since 2018, hold just 4.4% of the vote, which would mean the party is not entering parliament for the first time, according to the latest STEM poll.

After 2018, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) backed Babis’ minority government in parliament, but withdrew its support earlier this year and there is no guarantee that it will back ANO again. The KSCM is currently getting around 6.5% of the vote, according to STEM, down from the 7.8% it won in the last general election, meaning it could control fewer parliamentary seats next week.

The Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party has said it will not cooperate with Babis and would face considerable backlash if it tries to form an alliance with the controversial far-right party, which records around 12%. None of the other smaller parties likely to ally with Babis is expected to win seats in parliament.

Rumors also abound that Babis could try to reach a post-election deal with one of the largest opposition parties if he cannot form a stable government. The center-right ODS could agree to work in coalition with ANO on the condition that Babis no longer remains prime minister, Karaskova told Euronews in a previously published article. This could come with the unspoken promise of clemency for Babis.

“Babis is afraid,” said a source close to the current cabinet, who requested anonymity. “He knows that if he loses the election, he could also lose his freedom.”

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