Euro elections: ANO wins despite anti-Babiš protests, opposition gains, Social Dems lose big

Photo: ČTK / David Taneček

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s ANO party, as expected, won the European Parliament elections held over the weekend, garnering 21.2% of the vote. A strong turnout – by Czech standards – is thought to have helped his and other mainstream parties fend off far-right and Eurosceptic populist parties.

Euro elections: ANO wins despite anti-Babiš protests,  photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš

Photo: ČTK / David Taneček
Competing for the 21 Czech mandates were a record 40 parties and movements, who fielded in total 841 candidates. While the total number of candidates was slightly lower than in 2014, the number of non-affiliated candidates increased slightly.

Although the Czech Republic is the only country among the 28 EU member states where voting is possible over the course of two days, voter turnout has traditionally lagged behind the EU average.

According to the Czech Statistical Office, turnout this time was 28.7 percent, up from 18.2 percent five years ago. In the EU as a whole, in this contest turnout was above 51 percent – the highest level in 25 years.

ANO won 6 of the 21 Czech seats in the European Parliament, a gain of 2 seats compared to the previous elections in 2014. This despite investigations into Mr Babiš’s alleged role in an EU subsidy fraud – and large-scale, weekly demonstrations held over the past month condemning his appointment of a new justice minister days after police recommended that he face trial over it.

Mr Babiš said his party had been subject to an “intensive and vulgar” anti-campaign.

“But we have won... I took this as a certain indicator whether our government was working. And I think it is working excellently, it has results and there is no reason for having fears of the future of our country,” he told supporters.

In Prague – where some 50,000 people took to the streets in the last anti-Babiš demonstration – more than 30 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The opposition TOP 09 and Mayors and Independents coalition won the Czech capital with almost 21 percent of the vote. ANO finished fourth.

Mr Babiš's party did better in most regions, where turnout ranged between 15 to 21 percent. (In some regions, turnout was as low as 5 percent and in one case as high as 55 percent.)

Left loses, centre gains, far-right ‘wave’ wavers

Civic Democrats leader Petr Fiala,  photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová
ANO’s junior coalition partner in the minority government, the left-leaning Social Democrats – the biggest loser among the mainstream parties – garnered only 3.95% of the vote failed to gain a single mandate, for the first time in the party’s history. In the previous election in 2014, they had won 4 seats.

The opposition mainstream parties, meanwhile, also had a solid showing.

The centre-right Civic Democrats got 14.5% of the vote (4 seats;+2 since 2014), the left-leaning Pirates, who failed to enter the European Parliament last time, got 13.95% (3 seats), and an alliance between two conservative parties, TOP 09 and the Mayors and Independents, got 11.6% (3 seats; -1 since 2014), and the Christian Democrats 7.2% (2 seats; -1 since 2014).

The far-right anti-migrant, anti-Muslim Freedom and Direct Democracy – by far the loudest and harshest critic of the European Union in the Czech lower house of Parliament, where it is the fourth-largest party – got 9.1% (2 seats – the party’s first).

Ahead of the weekend vote, polls had suggested that support for Tomio Okamura’s party had more than halved in the past 18 months, so it represents a victory for Czech nationalists, if not a resounding one.

Meanwhile, another far-right party, Svobodní, lost the 1 seat it had in the European Parliament. And on the other end of the political spectrum, the largely unreformed Communists got just 6.9% (1 seat; -2 since 2014).

Immigration, security, ‘dual quality’ food, Czech power

Social Democrats leader Jan Hamáček,  photo: ČTK / Michal Kamaryt
In its campaign, ANO had in particular advocated for greater powers for individual EU member states. It also focused on immigration policy and security issues.

The alliance of TOP09 and Mayors and Independents campaign stressed regional development and called for a common migration policy within the EU.

The Pirates focused their campaign on fighting corruption, promoting individual and digital rights, environmental protection, renewable energy and greater equality among EU member states.

The Social Democrats – who complained that their advocacy on the “dual quality” food issue had been co-opted by other parties late in the day – focused on affordable housing.

No spike in disinformation

In the weeks ahead of the vote, the amount of disinformation on Czech websites related to the EU did not sharply increase, according to the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI).

Of the 31 websites the think tank says are “notorious” for spreading disinformation, most largely focused on the “dual quality” food issue, migration, populist movements and challenging the real economic benefits of EU membership for the Czech Republic.

While there was “a minimum disinformation”, the think tank said its survey showed symbiosis between disinformation websites and certain parties, in particular the Freedom and Direct Democracy party.

EU wide: Centrist majority wanes, far-right gains

With more than 400 million eligible voters, the European Parliament election is the second largest in the world, after that of India. Since the first European Parliament election in 1979, voter turnout has fallen steadily and stood at 42.6 percent in 2014.

This time around, it was estimated to be 51 percent – the highest participation rate in 25 years – with voters of all stripes seeming to believe the stakes were higher than in previous elections.

Far-right leaders had their best Europe-wide result ever – and centrist parties will fail to reach a majority for the first time. But Greens and other pro-EU leftists also posted strong gains, and an anticipated anti-immigration wave did not swell to a tsunami that many opinion polls had forecast.