ANO leader Andrej Babiš faces problems on many fronts

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek

It’s probably been a week to write off for ANO leader Andrej Babiš. He has had to intervene in the crisis surrounding Prague’s mayor; relations with his coalition partners in government appear to have deteriorated even further, and the latest public opinion polls suggest his party is losing its long standing lead. And then there was the Austrian lorry in which more than 70 immigrants apparently suffocated to death.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
An ad talks about immigrants being discovered at the border without the proper papers and carrying a range of illegal substances. The advert, prominently displaying a ‘Stop Immigrants’ sign, was carried on the web pages of the Slovak poultry producer Hyza until Thursday. The immigrants in question here are foreign poultry imports with the message to only trust Slovak produced fare.

It was on Thursday that Austrian police discovered an abandoned lorry still bearing the publicity of the Slovak poultry producer Hyza on a mortorway layby. It was later revealed that around 70 immigrants had suffocated to death in the truck. Hyza is part of the Agrofert agro-chemical empire of ANO party leader and minister of finance Andrej Babiš. The company replaced the dubious immigrant advert with a message of condolence for the dead immigrants on Thursday and clarified that the tuck was not one of theirs but had been sold a year earlier.

70 immigrants had suffocated to death in the truck,  photo: CTK
A handful of Czech media, though not those owned by Andrek Babiš himself, highlighted the fact that the Austrian truck deaths put the spotlight on the Agrofert company ads. Agrofert has defended itself saying that the campaign was dreamed up at the start of the year to highlight dubious meat imports from Eastern Europe and was not meant to have any racist sub-text.

It’s not the first time that ANO leader Andrej Babiš has looked vulnerable over his companies activities, but he insists his companies are kept at arms’ length from his political career. Babiš himself has taken an outspoken stand on the immigrant crisis. This week he suggested Europe’s free movement Schengen zone end with borders patrolled once more and NATO forces brought into help patrols in South Eastern Europe. The comments brought almost immediate condemnation from the Czech Christian Democrats.

The ANO leader at the start of the week had to intervene at Prague City Hall to help secure his choice for mayor, Adriana Krnáčová, from being unseated by an internal party rebellion. It looks like a stop gap solution. And Babiš has had to admit that one of his flagship policies as finance minister, electronic cash registers to clamp down on tax dodgers will be delayed until the middle of 2016.

Adriana Krnáčová,  photo: Filip Jandourek
And ANO, the high riding party which burst on the political scene in parliamentary elections in 2013 to become the second biggest Czech political party, is now showing signs that its honeymoon with the Czech public could be coming to an end. After dominating the political polls ever since that breakthrough, one poll this week suggested the Social Democrats of prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka have caught up with Babiš’ party. Both are now put on 21.6 percent of public support.