Political scientist: Early elections most likely option following collapse of coalition talks

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

Talks between ANO and the Social Democrats on forming a minority coalition government with support from the Communists collapsed on Thursday. The break-down was reportedly caused by the fact that ANO refused to let the Social Democrats head the Interior Ministry – which they demanded as a "guarantee of independence“ given the fact that the cabinet would be headed by a prime minister charged with EU subsidy fraud.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Jana Trpišovská,  Czech Radio
So, given the ANO leader’s low coalition potential –is the Czech Republic facing early elections – a question I put to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“I think that early elections seem to be the most likely scenario at this point, not because of Mr. Babiš’ inability to gain majority support ,because he would be able to do so with the help of the Communist Party and the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party of Tomio Okamura –with concessions – but I think that Mr. Babis does not want to rely on those two parties together, especially on Okamura’s party because that party is viewed both in the Czech Republic and in the West as an extremist party. And in recent months Mr. Babiš has tried very hard to portray himself as a pro-Western, pro-European politician partly I think because he wants to create a source of legitimacy for himself which he lacks at home where he is criticized for being anti-democratic and authoritarian.”

President Zeman has said he is against early elections – do you think the two of them will try to draw out this period for as long as possible?

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“Yes, I think that Mr. Babiš is basically happy with the current situation. He has a minority government, which can get some laws approved with the help of different parties through ad hoc arrangements, so I do not think that he is in any rush, and Mr. Zeman does not seem to be in any kind of hurry either, so I think that the two of them will cooperate in keeping this government in power for as long as possible and then moving towards early elections. That would require a second and third unsuccessful attempt at forming a government or a resolution by the lower chamber to dissolve itself. But those things are not likely to happen any time soon and I think Mr. Babiš will continue with his current government for some time.”

ANO is still the strongest party by a big margin. What if the next elections turn out the same way –is this a deadlocked situation, because clearly his coalition potential is practically nil?

“Yes, that is a danger for Mr. Babiš, however it seems that at this point he has been able to weaken both leftist parties –the Social Democrats and the Communists. The Social Democrats do not come out of the failed negotiations on a coalition government with a very good profile, simply because they abandoned some of their principles and promises not to be in government with a prime minister who is criminally prosecuted, so they may lose more voters than they have already lost. Moreover, the Czech political right is in disarray, fractioned and unless it is able to unite in some way Mr. Babiš may actually be able to achieve a more spectacular victory than in the fall of 2017.”

Is the Czech Republic in big trouble?

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
“Yes, in some ways it could be, but at the same time I think that Mr. Babiš is really not the kind of populist or power-grabbing politician that we see in Hungary or in Poland. I think he is very interested in keeping a good picture of himself, especially in the West, where he also has some business interests, and so yes, it would not be good news for Czech democracy, Mr. Babiš rules singlehandedly, but at the same time I think that he would probably not go for the kind of steps that we see in Hungary or Poland, because he seems to be much more interested in having good relations with Brussels and the West in general.”