Expert: Negative billboards “do right thing from ANO’s perspective”

'Things were better under Babiš'

“Things were better under Babiš!” declare billboards that have been popping up around the Czech Republic. ANO’s name does not appear on the ads – depicting people complaining about how they’ve lost out under the Fiala government – and the party denies it even is a campaign. How much impact can these billboards have? I put that question to political scientist Otto Eibl of Masaryk University.

“From my point of view the campaign does the right thing, from ANO’s perspective.

“Because they didn’t have enough attention from the media, which only makes sense because they lost in the elections, or weren’t able to form a government.

“Now media attention is very limited, and the media are focused on Prime Minister Fiala.

“So the Babiš team needed something and they came up with this, and I think it will work for many, many reasons.

“It will be effective, I believe.

“And it is effective. The proof of the effectiveness of the campaign is this interview.”

The ANO party are claiming that this is not a political campaign. What do you say to that assertion?

Otto Eibl | Photo: Masaryk University Brno

“No, it’s a political campaign, of course. It’s part of their permanent campaign.

“Putting non-politicians on billboards doesn’t make any change.

“It has political goals and it is happening in politics, so it is a political campaign.

“But it pretends not to be.”

What do you think it says about the possible tone we could expect in electioneering later this year? It looks like they are going for the fact that government are helping Ukrainians and “taking away from our people”.

“It depends if we talk about local, Senate or presidential elections.

“I think we will see a mixture of, let’s say, xenophobia, of populism – so everything that we are used to, what we have already seen and what we have already known.

“So the tone will be rather aggressive.

“Babiš has to fight, Babiš has to make the impression that he is the one who cares about ‘our people’, about Czech people.

“When the Ukrainians started coming, he also started repeating that the government was not thinking about our people.

“This works for certain people.

“So this is a prequel of something, something bigger – they are maybe testing something.

'Things were better under Babiš' | Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

“It is a prequel to something, and a reminder at the same time: with Babiš everything was better.

“And the narrative will continue and the story will unfold during the next few months.”

As is often the case in the Czech Republic, there have been many parodies of these billboards. I was wondering, could this also serve Babiš, the fact that they are making this campaign very, very visible on social media?

“Yes, exactly. That’s another proof that the campaign is working.

“All those mock-ups making fun of the campaign help the campaign to spread the message, because the message remains clear.

“And we have to realise who the target audience is.

“They are ex-ANO voters, they are ex-Social Democratic voters – all those people who feel abandoned or forgotten by Czech politicians.

“And here is Babiš telling them, OK, I will work for you; you know me – I worked hard for you in the past and I will do the same in the future.

“So every single sharing, every single mocking-up helps spread the basic message: Babiš is here, ready to communicate and ready to serve the people.”