Expert: Babiš can’t risk tag of loser from presidential election

With 100 days until Czechs elect a new president, the bookmakers have Petr Pavel as favourite. Andrej Babiš had been expected to go head to head with the ex-army man, though it is not clear whether he will run. Meanwhile the governing Together alliance have just recommended their voters back Pavel, Danuše Nerudová or Pavel Fischer. I discussed the election with political scientist Miloš Gregor.

Miloš Gregor | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“The approach of the Together coalition is quite understandable, since there are already plenty of candidates on this part of the political spectrum: Petr Pavel, Danuše Nerudová, Fischer and so on.

“There are plenty of candidates who are suitable for the preferences of Together voters.

“If they nominated their own candidate, the candidate probably would have no chance to win the election.

“And another point is that support for the so-called ‘pro-democratic’ candidate could be atomized.”

Petr Pavel | Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

But given that Petr Pavel is so far ahead in the polls of the other names mentioned by the together alliance, is this effectively an endorsement of him?

“Yes and no at the same time [laughs].

“Of course Petr Pavel is doing the best in the polls, from the candidates mentioned by the Together coalition.

“However, if the coalition supported Petr Pavel directly it could be perceived as some disadvantage for him, because the Together coalition is a government is not so popular right now.

“So probably that’s why Together decided to support these three candidates indirectly.”

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Michaela Říhová,  ČTK

Many people believed for a long time that Andrej Babiš was going to run, but now there’s increasing speculation that he won’t. ANO are going to say at the end of October what their plan is. What do you think is ANO’s most likely move here?

“ANO’s position is quite difficult, because Andrej Babiš is an essential person for ANO.

“He was supposed to be the natural candidate.

“However, none of the polls, public polls or party ones, have predicted victory for Andrej Babiš.

“From my point of view, I think that Andrej Babiš can’t afford another loss in elections.

“Because he lost the parliamentary election, he lost elections to the Senate – and if Andrej Babiš loses elections to the presidency his image as a winner, as somebody who can win and put together votes, would be destroyed.

“So probably that’s why Andrej Babiš still doesn’t know whether he will run for office or not.

“Most probably, I think that ANO will nominate Alena Schillerová or maybe Karel Havlíček – and Andrej Babiš will give them full support in the electoral campaign.”

Alena Schillerová | Photo: Andrea Filičková,  Czech Radio

But how are they a better candidate than him? Are they more popular with ANO voters?

“That’s the joke – they are not.

“They are not more popular than Andrej Babiš, but their loss in the elections is not directly a loss of Andrej Babiš.

“Of course, journalists, political competitors and so on will frame it as a loss of Andrej Babiš.

“But if Andrej Babiš lost in the presidential election, it could be somehow a similar situation to Slovakia, when Robert Fico lost a presidential election – that was the time when his voters realised that he can even lose.

“That’s probably why ANO puts high stakes on Alena Schillerová or Havlíček, despite the fact they have no big chance of winning the election.”

Karel Havlíček  | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

There are many names that have been publicly known for a long time. What chance do you think there is that there could be some surprise candidate who could appear even at this late stage? There are 100 days to go now. Is there a chance that somebody could come out of left field, as they say?

“I think that the candidate of ANO is the last one who can seriously step into the contest.

“As you mentioned, there are just three months to the election.

“And if there is somebody without the support of a political party, if there is somebody who is not really famous so far, his or her chances to have some solid result in the election are minimal.

“So I think there is only one we are waiting for, and that’s the candidate of ANO.”