'Czech Donald Trump' election win – ‘a real slam at the establishment’
A billionaire populist Andrej Babis is on course to become next Czech prime minister. In what’s become another European establishment defeat, his ANO party won the parliamentary elections by a landslide over the weekend.
The center-right Civic Democrats (ODS) came second with 11.3 percent, followed by Czech Pirate Party, which captured over 10 percent of the vote. Babis had been against further EU integration, however, on Saturday he said his party is planning to actively work within the EU.
RT:Babis has been dubbed the "Czech Donald Trump." Do you think it’s a fair comparison?
Adam Garrie: In some ways, certainly in superficial ways he ticks those boxes. He is a billionaire; he’s been the subject of controversy; he revels in blunt statements. He once famously said that “Unlike Trump, I never went bankrupt.” I’m sure maybe the American Trump would disagree with that.
In other ways, he’s very unlike Donald Trump. He has been a government minister before, because his ANO party was in the ruling coalition in the Czech Republic, dating back to the previous elections in 2013. So he’s got many more years of experience in government than Trump, or be it not in the leadership position. And he was something of a controversial figure at that time.
Certainly, he positions himself as sort of someone who can gravitate and levitate even between the left and right of Czech politics, much like Trump at least sort of did during the campaign. He is someone who is officially part of the establishment. But in terms of his attitude, in terms of many of his stated policies and in the way he presents his policies, he is definitely something that came out of the left field, even though someone would say right field, in terms of the Czech political spectrum. The key thing with this election is to realize that all of the parties that really won the top spots with the exception of the party that came in second – the Conservatives, the central-right party – every one are new parties.
All of these [parties] represent in their own way, using their own ideology – a real slam at the establishment. The old ruling party, the Social Democrats came in sixth after the old Communist Party. What this election represents – this is very much Trump-like in the sense that it is a rejection of everything old, and an embrace of many things new.
RT: What do you think attracted Czech voters to Babis? Was it his personality, his political platform, or both?
AG: It is certainly a combination of his personality and his political platform. The Czechs have always embraced interesting characters, whether it was [Vaclav] Havel, [Vaclav] Klaus, or even current President [Milos] Zeman – they sort of embrace the outspoken politicians. The role of prime minister has tended to go to more drab characters than the presidency. What we’re seeing now is someone that is really bucking that trend. So yes, they absolutely responded to his personality.
He is also fitting in with the kind of trend throughout the central European countries. In this sense, he is nothing new. He is somewhat similar to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister; or be it Orban positions himself as someone on the firm right of center, but with some sort of populist overtones. He’s had his disputes with the EU not because he is a Eurosceptic in the violent anti-EU sense, but because he wants less EU consolidation, and he wants fewer EU dictates on things like the incredibly unpopular open-door policy of Frau [Angela] Merkel.
In this sense we can say that, we like Hungary, and in some ways like Poland, whose center-right government has taken a similar stance, are saying: “We want to be a part of Europe, but we want to have a say in Europe, rather than just go along with this standard Federalistic – Merkelistic trends that tend to come out of Brussels, Paris, and Berlin”…
At the end of the day, even though media outlets and fellow politicians like to focus on the divisions within Europe. Europe can only function as a cooperative, as a union, if there is consensus. Orban has been surprisingly masterful at creating these consensuses. While most people focus on Orban’s disputes, he is a member of a European country that is very much open to the world. He has good contacts with a lot of people in Europe – far more than many people think – also opening himself up to the wider world. We can see in Prague something that develops along similar lines once we see the final formation of a coalition government.
RT: Why, in your opinion, do we see such a trend toward anti-establishment election victories across the West?
AG: It is similar in a sense that all of these new political leaders and new political parties are challenging the status-quo. A lot of people are trying to talk about a populist revolution; some people talk about a right-wing political revolution; someone are focusing on Mediterranean countries – Greece in particular – talk about the left wing. I don’t think there is any one single trend in terms of left, right, or center. What we all are seeing – is that the old political consensus whereby a center-right party and a center-left party sort of congealed and had the same policies in this mundane neo-liberal center, we’re seeing a rebellion against this on all sides. The main reason is because these neo-liberal parties have failed. They haven’t been successful in growing economies; they haven’t been successful in living standards; they haven’t been successful in keeping the domestic peace…