It isn’t hard to label Andrej Babiš and his ANO movement as a very real danger to Czech democracy. One can find plenty of evidence to support the assertion. But, as demonstrated by the regional and Senate election results, many voters are yet to reach this conclusion. Miroslav Kalousek – the loudest anti-Babiš voice in politics – and his TOP 09 party had a terrible election. Babiš had a pretty good one.
And so one has no choice but to accept that Babiš is a stable component of the political scene. ANO is perhaps not quite an ordinary party, but it is no malignant growth that can be corrected with a simple surgical procedure. There again, one should take note that Babiš’s regional victory was hardly a landslide. He evidently picked up a few Social Democrat and even Communist voters, the latter registering a notable drop in their old allegiance. However, the election confirms ANO’s ability to attract a wide array of voters with its de-emphasis on policy and asinine marketing campaigns pledging to “make things better” and “improve things”. Nonetheless, one regional ANO party pooper was the Mayors and Independents (STAN) party; meanwhile, the Social Democrats enjoyed two notable victories in the regions, and the Christian Democrats took Zlín region.
In fact, the results represent another welcome step away from the dangerously single-coloured election results that swept the regions in 2004 [the Civic Democrats won all but one region –Ed.]. ANO won in nine regions, and gained around half a million votes. When, in 2008, the Social Democrats switched the regional map from blue to orange, it won more than a million votes. So the trend for 2016 is a good one – regional elections should not chiefly be seen as referendums on the government. Rather they should serve as gauges of regional governments’ performances. Results such as Martin Půta in Liberec (STAN, governor) and Jiří Zimola (Social Democrat, governor) in South Bohemia, could suggest this year’s contests fulfilled their correct role to a greater degree than in previous years.
"The election confirms ANO’s ability to attract a wide array of voters with its de-emphasis on policy and asinine marketing campaigns promising to "make things better"
Future regional campaigning based merely on opposing Babiš’s assault on democracy thus appears foolhardy. On a purely technical level, the ANO chief could hardly want a better result than the panic just witnessed in the Hradec Králové region. There, a hastily assembled “All against Babiš” coalition was formed within hours of the results. If a few more regions acted this foolishly – without even going through the motions of coalition negotiations – Babiš would barely have to lift a finger to be assured of winning the next general election.
What stronger indication of “the establishment” preventing new blood from entering local politics could Babiš ask for? And what better argument could he want to help to peddle his “I’m the good guy outsider under attack by the establishment” nonsense? The more such foolish knee-jerk coalitions coming into being, the greater will be his victory next year. Babiš’s soldiers should be allowed to govern in the regions – for better or worse.
It is far better to let ANO shoot itself in the foot through governing, than to fuel its narrative as the injured party of real change. It is also necessary to try to find a way to counter ANO’s national-level popularity. There, playing the “threat to democracy” card may serve a useful purpose. After all, parliamentary elections have a very different character than local ones – and ANO’s nationwide 21.05 percent is hardly cause for Babiš to be popping the champagne corks.