Analyst: Babiš using similar strategy to Poland’s Kaczynski

Andrej Babiš

Following his failed presidential bid, Andrej Babiš announced on Wednesday that he will remain the leader of the ANO party as well as an MP, but will step away from active leadership. Deputy chairs Karel Havlíček and Alena Schillerová will become the “main faces” of Czechia’s largest opposition party in Czechia. I discussed Mr. Babiš’s move with political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Tomáš Roček,  Czech Radio

“I think that Babiš is trying to use a similar strategy to the one we know from Poland, where Jaroslaw Kaczynski is the leader of the Law and Justice party but doesn’t hold government positions. Despite not holding a cabinet role, Kaczyński basically controls Polish politics. I think that Babiš is trying to do the same. He will be somewhere in the background, but not actively run his party.

“We could say, with a bit of irony, that he decided to park his party into a trust fund, which will be administered by Karel Havlíček and Alena Schillerová, while Babiš pretends that he is basically not involved. However, anytime he finds it suitable, he will be involved and he will have the same kind of influence and control that he has had until now.”

Karel Havlíček  | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Mr. Babiš is known for his brash approach. Do you think he will be able to actually step back into the background and play this role that you have described, or could that be beyond his abilities?

“First of all, I think that Babiš will have a big problem with not being involved, because he has a need to comment on things and he gets easily offended. It will therefore be a difficult position for him because it requires a large degree of self-control, which Babiš does not have.

“However, what it could do for ANO is that Havlíček may be the candidate for the next prime minister if the party wins the elections. That could make ANO more acceptable as a partner for other parties that previously did not want to enter a coalition with Babiš.

“From that point of view it’s a smart move because ANO’s low coalition potential had to do with Babiš. If ANO, under the leadership of Havlíček, became the coalition partner of one of the current government parties, Babiš would still have enough influence to basically run things from behind the scenes.

“Another advantage for Babiš is of course that, if he were not directly involved in governmental or parliamentary politics, he would avoid the impact of the law on the conflict of interest. That law is currently being discussed again in Parliament and it may get some new provisions that would ban politicians from owning media for example. So, although Babiš has chosen to remain in the Chamber of Deputies, he can easily step down, give up the position and then claim that he is not involved in politics and return to his business empire.”

Alena Schillerová | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  archive of Czech Radio

Do you think Karel Havlíček has what it takes to win the next election for the party and become prime minister? He may be seen by some as an uncharismatic figure when compared to Mr Babiš.

“I think that the reason why Babiš is staying on as chairman of the party is exactly because he doesn’t have anyone as charismatic as himself to run ANO. Mr. Havlíček will formally be the shadow prime minister and de-facto leader of the movement, but it will all be done in cooperation with Babiš who will provide his face and comments anytime it’s necessary.

“The scheme that they have come up with is basically designed to make Babiš work less and be more involved with his business, but at the same time provide support to Havlíček whenever he needs it and to show to voters that the party is still basically run by Andrej Babiš.”