Controversial ex-communist and billionaire runs for presidency in Czech Republic

Andrej Babis, a former Czech prime minister, has declared his candidacy for the Czech presidency, ending weeks of speculation. According to Forbes, Babis is the fifth-wealthiest Czech. 

Still, he is also the subject of a conflict-of-interest investigation by the European Commission focused on Agrofert, his major holding company for agriculture, media, and chemicals. In 1980s secret police files, he was also accused of having worked for the communist-era security service, but he has vehemently denied any cooperation.


Andrej Babis decided to do it

The controversial populist billionaire recently dropped indications that he may suggest another party member-run. This announcement caught everyone off guard because surveys indicated that he would probably lose a run-off against the front-runner, former General Petr Pavel, in the January election.

Forced to respond to people’s requests

The action might be a sign that Babis intends to launch a populist campaign to take advantage of the ongoing problem in the cost of living and discontent among certain Czechs at the expense of sanctions against Russia.

Analysts point out that Babis has been waging a campaign for some time, touring the small towns and villages where he receives the majority of his support and announcing that “Times were better under Babic.” The agrochemical tycoon will also be able to take advantage of his substantial wealth, his affiliation with the ANO party, and his media empire, which includes the national dailies Mlada Fronts Dnes and Lidove Noviny.

All candidates must submit the signatures of 50,000 citizens, 20 lawmakers, or ten senators by the deadline of November 8. Babis easily satisfies the requirements as his ANO party has 72 representatives in the Czech parliament, by far the most of any party.


Babis’ primary opponents in the election campaign

Petr Pavel, a retired NATO commander and former chief of the general staff, and former Brno Mendel University President Danues Nerudova, whose teams have gathered enough signatures from voters to create a quorum, will be Babis’ most significant opponents. Babis currently leads in the most recent polls.

After serving two terms in office, current president Milos Zeman, a close ally of Babis, cannot stand.


Open court cases against Andrej Babis

The president’s authority is primarily ceremonial, but he has historically had a significant say in international affairs. Babis will be granted immunity in the ongoing trial in Czech Republic. 

Babis will be entitled to immunity in the ongoing trial in Prague where he is accused of a €2mn EU subsidy fraud. Tomas Grivna, head of the criminal law department at Charles University, stated in an interview with Seznam Zpravy that the Czech constitution clearly states that the “president of the republic cannot be detained or criminally prosecuted while in office.” He also noted that additional trial hearings are scheduled for next year.

“In democratic nations, a persecuted politician flees; Andrej Babis asks Prague Castle for immunity. The Czech Republic does not deserve this, wrote Prime Minister Petr Fiala in a tweet. Fiala is the head of the center-right SPOLU bloc of parties, supporting senators Pavel Fischer, Nerudova in the presidential race.


Nerudova has no communist past, unlike his opponents

Nerudova took a more assertive stance after Babis’ statement, tweeting that she is “ready to focus on the future of all of us,” in contrast to Babis and Petr Pavel. They are preoccupied with exposing their Communist past to the public.

Petr Pavel and Babis were both former members of the Communist Party. Babis has been proven to have worked for the infamous StB spy agency during the Cold War while holding lucrative positions in the Czechoslovak state’s foreign trade organizations, despite his continued denial of the evidence.


Pavel’s spy past

Right-wing historian Petr Blazek has recently attacked Pavel, alleging that he is not truthful about his prior military intelligence training. According to Blazek, his movement was meant to prepare him for a career as a spy in the West.

Because of the populism Babis personifies, Pavel  Fischer  stated that he regards Babis’ candidacy as “a threat to the Czech Republic.”


Does Babis remain a communist?

The 63-year-old Babis is the son of a top communist official who represented Czechoslovakia at the Geneva General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt). He is thought to have joined the communist party in 1980, a decision that may have been motivated more by professional aspirations than political views.

Babis worked for the StB as an unofficial “trusty” before developing into a full-fledged agent, according to Radek Schovánek, an authority on security files from the communist era for the Czech defense ministry. Babis’ 12 remaining security files – others have been destroyed – clearly show that he joined deliberately, according to Schovánek.

During the initial Slovakian prosecution, Schovánek, a witness against Babis, stated that his actions may have been far more widespread than what is shown in the files, which were made public in the early 1990s.

Courts’ decisions in Babis’ case

Babis had maintained that, far from being an accomplice, he was a victim of the StB, the communist-era security service, who pressured him into participating in preserving his children’s education and his freedom to go abroad. To prove that his security dossier had been purposefully fabricated to hide his genuine identity, he even summoned the agent who is said to have recruited him in 1982, Lieutenant Julius Suman, to testify in court.

A Bratislava court initially agreed with that, ruling in 2014 that Babis had been incorrectly identified as a communist spy. The Slovakian constitutional court reversed the decision last year, stating that Suman’s testimony was inadmissible because the StB was a “criminal organization.”

Additionally, it stated that Babis could not file a lawsuit against Slovakia’s Nation’s Memory Institute, as it only had the records in its archive. The final judgment from last week upheld the decision made by the constitutional court.

The former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and the second richest man in the country still denies all the facts from his dossier, and keeps presidential ambitions.

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