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Czech Parliamentary Elections: End of Babiš

The Czechs elected their next head of state over the last weekend of January. Although mostly symbolic, the position was, for the last 30 years, held by political heavy-weights. And for the last 20 of those years also by men with rather strange relationships to western institutions and at times orientated towards the East. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the next president – Petr Pavel (*) – will represent a change of course.

A retired general, who served as Chairman of the NATO military committee, Pavel is naturally a supporter of both NATO and the European Union, as well as of continuing the country’s support for Ukraine. Pavel is also a political newcomer, having never held elected office before. This increases the chances of returning the institution of the presidency to what it was planned to be – a figure moderating the political debate, trying to unify the country instead of deliberately fanning the flames, as the outgoing Miloš Zeman (SPO-*) has done, over and over again.

The election also marks another subsequent defeat for the once-hegemonic former prime minister, Andrej Babiš (ANO-RE). After losing the parliamentary election to the conservative and centre-right SPOLU alliance (ECR|EPP) and being ousted from government by the government of Petr Fiala (ECR|EPP|G/EFA) in 2021, he tried to spin last year’s senate election into a ‘referendum on the government’, only to lose in a landslide. Finally he decided to run for president, prompting SPOLU to endorse nearly every relevant candidate other than him.

Now Babiš lost decisively for the third time and questions are being asked about his political future. Prime minister Fiala called the results ‘The beginning of the end of Babiš’s era’. Babiš himself is feeding the speculations, having changed his social media description from ‘Member of Parliament’ to ‘Citizen’ and correcting journalists for calling him an MP, hinting at a possible resignation.

And stepping away for a moment would make sense – during the campaign Babiš had to court extreme voters by for example, appearing with representatives of the stalinist wing of KSČM (LEFT) and adopting parts of SPD (ID) rhetoric while simultaneously attacking the party and ruling out any cooperation with them. As a result, ANO is now completely isolated and has very little chance of forming a government. Babiš has at various points in the past hinted at replacing himself with someone else as leader, in order to make ANO more ‘salonfähig’ or acceptable, while still retaining control behind the scenes. This scenario now appears quite realistic.

By having lost this election, Babiš also lost his shot at destabilising the government. President Pavel, while not a governmental candidate, was nevertheless endorsed by the governmental parties (and vice versa – Pavel admitted to being a SPOLU voter) and will probably try to help and stabilise the current government should it get into any crisis. Pavel’s main election slogan was the rather conservative sounding promise to give Czechia ‘Order and Stability’ and with his victory the country might just get that for the foreseeable future, for better or worse.