ANO edge TOP 09, Social Democrats, in European elections

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

In an interview before the results of the European election were announced, businessman turned politician Andrej Babiš expressed doubts his ANO movement would win, suggesting a knock on the chin would be a wake-up call ahead of communal elections this autumn. But the party leader spoke too soon: ANO maintained just enough momentum, edging both the opposition party TOP 09 and fellow coalition partners the Social Democrats.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
In the end, there were no major surprises in the Czech leg of the European elections, not even this: that voter turnout, as predicted, would be dismal. Only 18.2 percent of voters came to the polls – the second-worst turnout in the EU. Curiously, the only country that fared worse in terms of low turnout was Slovakia.

But a win is a win. ANO, as polls had suggested, secured victory and with it four mandates. Opposition party TOP 09, which had trended well, finished a very close second, winning the same number of seats, while the coalition leaders the Social Democrats came third, also securing four. The remaining nine seats were divided up by the Communists, who got three, the Christian Democrats, also three, the Civic Democrats, two, and the Free Citizens’ Party, one.

There are several ways to slice and dice the final results. A defeat for the Eurosceptic parties is one: ahead of the election, the once mighty Civic Democrats had the most to lose and it was obvious the party would not be able to retain most of its seats.

Pavel Telička,  photo: CTK
Second, it is apparent that ANO has carried over or built on the momentum from domestic elections last year. And third, not all right-wing parties were discarded by voters: TOP 09 rebounded, arguably by fielding popular public figures like former justice minister Jiří Pospíšil or former vice governor of the national bank, Luděk Neidermayer.

The leader of TOP 09, Karel Schwarzenberg, sent a dig ANO’s way suggesting they might have won but still weren’t a “real” political party.

But ANO can easily afford to let such comments slide, facing more pressing matters which include choosing who will be the country’s next European commissioner. ANO is pushing for its candidate, Pavel Telička, who served briefly in the post a decade ago. But coalition partners the Social Democrats are pushing for former finance minister Pavel Mertlík to get the post while the Christian Democrats are backing their own candidate.

What has changed is that ANO, as the election winners, can stake a greater claim. ANO leader Andrej Babiš was careful when asked about the way forward but the message was clear:

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
“We are still members of the coalition, so a compromise is needed. But I hope that our coalition partners will respect that we won and recognise Mr Telička’s capabilities in representing the Czech Republic as euro commissioner.”

Meanwhile, the European elections were decisive for others who failed to deliver. One ‘casualty’? The youthful head of the Greens, Ondřej Liška, who took personal responsibility for his party’s poor showing – below the five percent threshold – by announcing on Monday that he was stepping down.