“He will be very aggressive” – analyst on Babiš’s entry into presidential race

Andrej Babiš

ANO party leader Andrej Babiš announced on Sunday that he will be running in the January 2023 Czech presidential election. The former prime minister made the decision despite currently being behind in the polls after several months of touring the country’s regions. I asked political analyst Petr Just why he thinks Mr Babiš ultimately decided to throw his hat in the ring.

Stork’s Nest | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  iROZHLAS.cz

“I think he always slightly preferred the choice that he would be running, but he didn’t say it openly. This naturally left some space for speculation about whether he would end up doing so or not. Apparently he is very ambitious and also needs some kind of immunity protection because he is under a criminal investigation right now, the [Stork’s Nest] trial is ongoing. According to some commentators, this is also one of the reasons why he decided to run for head of state.

“On the other hand, despite him not being a front runner in the elections at the moment, he is the kind of person who does not accept defeat in advance, so he’s definitely not coming into the race as an outsider. He himself doesn’t accept any such label.

“He will be very ambitious in the election and will be optimistic about his prospects for victory. These are the reasons why I think the campaign will be very harsh.”

What sort of voter base do you think Mr Babiš will be targeting in his campaign and are there any issues in Czech society that you think he is particularly likely to focus on?

Photo: Michal Kamaryt,  ČTK

“Already in his announcement on Sunday, he mentioned a few issues that inspired or motivated him to run in this election. He said that he thinks the government is doing very poorly when it comes to fulfilling people’s needs, especially now when Czechia and its society are facing some social and economic problems, such as the energy crisis. His long-term perspective has been to accuse the government of not doing enough to care for the people. This, in my opinion, will be the main motto, or message that will be contained within his campaign when it comes to content.

“This also leads us to the question of what target groups he will focus on. These would be the people who are dissatisfied with the government, those who are facing some serious social and economic problems. Another phenomenon that has been noticeable about his politics over some time is that he has been moving towards some nationalist issues, for example towards people who do not agree with the pro-Western orientation of the current Czech government, as well as those who are more critical towards Ukrainians and more apologetic towards Russians, or at least those who relativize the conflict in Ukraine.

Andrej Babiš and Miloš Zeman | Photo: Twitter of Jiří Ovčáček

“Last but not least, and this in my opinion has something to do with [Babiš’s] Sunday meeting with President [Miloš] Zeman, he will try to address the voter base that elected President Zeman into power in the previous two elections. Perhaps the visit was a sort of plea for help aimed at Miloš Zeman to support [Babiš’s] candidacy openly. And, by the way, Zeman already did that in the past, at a time when Andrej Babiš had not yet decided whether he would run. Mr Babiš is probably not only looking for support from the current president, but also for some sort of appeal to Zeman’s former voters to consider him as their candidate when they go to the polls in 2023.

“I think that these would be the kinds of groups that Andrej Babiš will try to target. The question is whether it will be enough, because we know that not all opposition voters are planning to support Andrej Babiš. For example, Mr Babiš’s voter base is similar to that of the labour union leader Josef Středula and there are other candidates as well. So it’s certainly going to be a big challenge for Andrej Babiš. He will not only have to fight those candidates supported by the ruling coalition, but also those who have the same or similar voter base as he does.”

A lot of commentators have said that this will lead to a further polarisation within Czech political discourse. Do you agree?

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“Definitely. The polarisation of Czech society will deepen even more. Although it is very likely that he will advance to the second round of the election, Andrej Babiš is not entering the presidential race as the front runner. All of the scenarios that have been tested so far indicate that Andrej Babiš would ultimately lose against any other finalist.

“It’s an issue that will mobilise Andrej Babiš even more. He will be very aggressive and will see no limits in the campaign. This will eventually also be reflected within society, which will be very much divided by this campaign. Czech society will definitely feel the impact of his entry into the campaign.”