Embattled Czech prime minister fighting for his political future

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/AP/Antonio Calanni

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is once again fighting for his political future in the wake of revelations that his son, who allegedly suffers from a mental disorder was held in Crimea against his will by his father’s associate to prevent him testifying in the Stork’s Nest affair in which the prime minister faces charges of EU subsidy fraud. Opposition parties have called on the prime minster to resign and are trying to raise support for a no-confidence vote in his administration. His fate now hangs on the decision of his coalition partner the Social Democrats and the Communist Party which supports the minority government. So could this be the end of the road for the besieged Czech prime minister? Political analyst Jiří Pehe thinks not.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/AP/Antonio Calanni
“I think this is a serious affair as far as the Czech Republic’s image goes, but I don’t think it is a serious development for Andrej Babiš in the sense that he would be forced to resign. I think that at this point he is still safe, because for the opposition to recall him they would have to be joined by the Social Democrats and that is not very likely to happen at this point because the Social Democratic Party is deeply split and there is a group of politicians in the party that depend on cooperation with Babiš. If those politicians – including party leader Jan Hamáček –were to leave the government, they would probably also lose their positions in the party, because they would be blamed by those opposing them in the party for ever entering into this arrangement with Babiš.”

Are there not voices in the Social Democratic Party saying -it would be better to opt out of this government, it is not doing us any favours?

Jan Hamáček  (center),  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
“Yes, there are quite a few voices in the party saying that the party should not be working with Babiš, but I think that at this point this internal battle in the Social Democratic Party is still undecided. So, it could go both ways, but I think that in the foreseeable future we will see a lot of fudging going on in the party along the lines “we have to give Mr. Babiš some time to explain, to see whether the latest charges are true or not, we need to allow the police and prosecutors to do their work and therefore there is no rush”. In short, I think that Mr. Hamáček and the people around him will play for time. I don’t think they will make a decision to join the opposition in a week and since the opposition wants to hold a no-confidence vote next week, I don’t think the Social Democrats will be ready to join them. It is quite possible that, if the latest charges against Babiš prove to be true, the Social Democrats will have no choice but to join the opposition, but that is not likely to happen in the next week or so.”

So you think that Andrej Babiš will, once again, ride out the storm?

“I think that Mr. Babiš will be able to survive at this point, bad as it is for the political culture and rule of law in the Czech Republic. And I think that, in some ways, this may have some beneficial effects in the sense that the public – or the 30 percent of the public who still support him – will be able to see that he is not what he seems to be.”

Do you really think that this scandal will lower his popularity ratings? We have not seen that happen in the past – and this scandal is nothing new…

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Luboš Vedral / Czech Radio
“I think that this latest scandal is new in one sense and that is that it is a very emotional issue for many people, it goes to the core of family values, and that is something people can relate to. So far Mr. Babiš has been able to portray himself as someone who is fighting the former corrupt political parties who are trying to remove him and are working together with the media to achieve that, but that in essence he is a good family man who is trying to do the right thing and on top of that he is trying to protect his family. But now a lot of his supporters will be able to see that he actually misused his family. Because no matter how you see this scandal, the fact remains that he used his children, about whom he now says that they are psychologically unwell, maybe ill, that he misused them for his own business interests.”