Andrej Babis, the controversial Czech billionaire, opposition leader, and founder of the populist ANO party, has declared that he will continue to serve in the Czech parliament’s lower house.
Babis doesn’t plan to resign
Babis has put an end to speculation that he will resign as a deputy and possibly as ANO leader after losing the presidential election to former army chief of staff general Petr Pavel in January.
ANO’s key faces will continue to be Babis and his lieutenants, Alena Schillerova and Karel Havlicek.
In the early 2010s, Babis created the ANO party as an anti-corruption party of disenchanted citizens in reaction to corruption scandals that brought down governments led by the liberal ODS party.
ANO party’s influence and crisis
With 72 deputies, ANO is the most powerful party in parliament. Still, it was deposed in October 2021 when the SPOLU group of center-right parties led by ODS joined forces with the more centrist Pirate Party and Mayors and Independents for a 108-deputy majority in the Chamber of Deputies of 200.
Babis has remained his party’s undisputed leader since then. Still, speculations appeared over ANO’s future after high-profile ANO politicians criticized Babis’ presidential campaign.
Moreover, the party starts falling apart. ANO’s governor of the Moravian-Silesian region Ivo Vondrak, who openly backed Pavel in the presidential race, resigned from his post in the ANO leadership this week.
Andrej Babis denigrates independent media
According to Petr Dvorak, general manager of Czech Television (CT), former Prime Minister Andrej Babis attacked public service media, seeing them as competitors to his private media, loyal to his political views.
While he was prime minister, the populist billionaire who owns his TV and radio empire frequently attacked the state-owned network and refused to speak to its reporters or appear on its programs.
The license fee was the primary source of income for CT, which was sought to be decreased or even abolished by MPs from his ANO party and other radical opposition parties. They also made “lying audits” of the channel public in the Czech parliament and verbally insulted its journalists regularly.
In February, following the party leadership meeting, Babis used his press conference to once again attack democratic systems such as parliament and the media. The agrochemicals tycoon, whose media empire publicly supported his campaign, also emphasized that he is the target of a media witch hunt.
Position on the Russian-Ukrainian War
Andrej Babis has been critical of Fiala’s government and the Czech Republic’s backing of Ukraine since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Babis stated that the Czech Republic should not send weapons to Ukraine and help Ukrainian refugees, prompting criticism.
However, Czechs have different viewpoints on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Czechs support Ukrainians and believe that more assistance should be provided to Ukraine. It’s no surprise that the presidential election winner, Petr Pavel, advocates more military aid to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight back against Russian aggression.
Andrej Babis doesn’t dare to voice openly pro-Russia views and narratives, as Moscow and Putin are now toxic because of the war launched against Ukraine. However, Babis doesn’t miss any opportunity to oppose Europe’s military and financial support of Ukraine, a stance that Putin would praise.
Far-right and anti-EU voters
The billionaire also stated unequivocally that he plans to stick to his strategy of appealing to both left and right-wing voters and that he will target voters of the far-right and anti-EU.
Ruling coalition politicians have often criticized ANO for lacking a distinct political ideology. Babis and ANO have been attempting to reconcile the anti-corruption rhetoric of ANO’s early years with aggressive appeals to the socially vulnerable electorate, taking advantage of the energy crisis and the government’s efforts to reduce the impact of rising costs of living.
Babis is accused of collaboration with communist-era secret police
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. He is thought to have joined the communist party in 1980.
Babis spent ten years working in Czechoslovakia’s foreign commerce, including assignments overseas. He is accused in the media of collaborating with the dreaded StB communist-era secret police, a charge he disputes despite the existence of archived records to the contrary.
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.