Expert: Court acquittal may boost Babiš’s chances in presidential run, but not enough

Andrej Babiš

Monday saw ANO party leader and presidential candidate Andrej Babiš acquitted of fraud charges in connection to the so-called Stork’s Nest case, with the judge ruling that it cannot be proven any of the defendants had acted criminally. I asked political commentator Jiří Pehe whether the acquittal will strengthen the former prime minister’s chances in the upcoming presidential race.  

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“I think that the acquittal may boost Babiš’s chances in the first round because there may be a few percentage points that he will gain on top of what he already has, according to opinion polls.

“That said, I don’t think it will play a major role in the second round because it looks like he would lose to either Petr Pavel or Danuše Nerudová by a huge margin and that the court ruling will not be sufficient to decrease that margin enough.”

How do you think the anti-Babiš camp will react to this? From what you’re saying it sounds like Andrej Babiš doesn’t have a chance to win the election even despite this favourable ruling.

Andrej Babiš | Photo: René Volfík,

“Babiš has a very firm electoral base, which, at around 30 percent, and is basically equivalent to the electoral base of his ANO party. However, he also has very high negative ratings.

“I think that those people who do not support Babiš, people who are against him and don’t want him to be the next president, will not be swayed by the court decision. Namely, because they have already made up their mind about Babiš.

“He would need more than just a court decision to be able to attract the voters that he needs to win the second round. And I don’t see that happening. His image is simply too negative among some voters.”

What do you think will be the image of the Czech justice system emerging from this? Babiš said in the past that this had all been a conspiracy to get him out of politics, but the result of the trial seems to have shown that it wasn’t. That it was impartial.

Jana Nagyová and Andrej Babiš | Photo: René Volfík,

“I think that this is a good development in regards to the reputation of the Czech judiciary court system because, despite Babiš’s allegations about political pressures and so on, the court decided impartially and actually acquitted him.

“That’s good news, but the whole process is not yet finished. The state prosecutor will most likely appeal and will therefore have to wait for the final verdict until the summer of this year.”

How do you see the effect of this verdict on the ANO party and Babiš’s wider political chances? What if, for example, Andrej Babiš gave up his candidacy and ran for prime minister instead?

Andrej Babiš | Photo: René Volfík,

“I think that the leaders of ANO would appreciate it if Babiš withdrew from the presidential race and returned fully to party politics. This is because it seems to me that, if he happens to win [the presidential elections], it would significantly weaken ANO simply because it is his project and it is too closely associated with him. If he is no longer at its helm, ANO will not be as strong as it is now.

“Of course, if he is defeated in the first or second round of the presidential elections then that will simply be a defeat and it will weaken him as a political leader of the opposition.

“I therefore think that withdrawing from the race would be a smart decision for him. However, the question is if he could do that now without losing face.”