The Czech Republic stood on the brink of a populist new era on Saturday , after voters heavily backed a billionaire businessman who has drawn comparisons with Donald Trump, while overwhelmingly rejecting establishment parties.
Amid public disdain towards “politics as usual”, the ANO (Action for Dissatisfied Citizens party) led by Andrej Babis, the country’s second-richest man, won 30% of the vote, according to projections, with nearly 95% of all ballots counted. That leaves ANO – which means yes in Czech – as the biggest party in parliament and in prime position to form a coalition government.
Slovakian-born Babis, 63, has been accused of seeking to undermine democracy by plotting to weaken parliament and buying up large swaths of the media to silence criticism. Babis campaigned on an anti-immigration platform – capitalising on popular opposition to EU migrant quotas.
Babis’s poll victory came despite him facing criminal fraud charges over his business dealings and lingering allegations that he had been a willing collaborator with the StB – communist-era Czechoslovakia’s feared secret police force during the cold war.
It contrasted with a snub for the Social Democrats – the current ruling coalition leaders, who won just 7.5% of the votes. A strong showing was recorded by parties on the far right and hard left, raising the possibility of a new hardline party taking office, which would seek to weaken the Czech Republic’s pro-western orientation.
The anti-immigrant Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) – led by Tomio Okamura, who is part Japanese and himself an immigrant – finished in second place with more than 11% of the poll, while the communists captured around 8.5%, opening the possibility that they could return to government for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.