Czech Republic is a country located in the region of Eastern Europe. The 2017 parliamentary election was a big success for the populist party Disgruntled Citizens Action (ANO), which has been in government with Social Democrats and Christian Democrats since 2014. ANO leader Andrej Babiš managed to lead his party to a superior victory with promises of combating immigration and corruption despite being suspected of fraud with EU money. However, Babiš found it difficult to find a willing coalition partner and halfway through the term of office, problems began to accumulate around him.
Despite the Social Democrats and the ANO sitting in the same government in 2014 to 2017, they were each other’s main political competitors. The personal contradictions between Social Democratic Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and ANO leader Andrej Babiš eventually made cooperation impossible. Babiš, who has been Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, was forced to resign a few months before the 2017 election due to accusations that he had seized EU funds on false grounds (see below).
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Czech Republic, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
However, the crime suspicions did not appear to reduce Babiš’s support among the public. In the October 2017 elections, the ANO was decided as the largest party with 78 seats (against 47 previously). The Social Democrats became the big loser of four years of difficult coalition work. The party collapsed from 50 seats to 15 in the new parliament. From being the largest party, ČSSD now became the sixth.
In office, Babiš had managed to coin the distrust of the “establishment” and portray it as himself reluctantly stepping into the political arena to fight corruption and other abuses. In addition to his business conglomerate Agrofert, which employs 33,000 employees in food and chemical production, Babiš owns one of the Czech Republic’s largest media companies. By his fortune and his political style, he has been compared to both former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and US President Donald Trump.
Although many voters gave Babiš approval, the other parties were skeptical about forming government with him. Both Social Democrats and Christian Democrats and the election’s second, the bourgeois Democratic Citizens’ Party (ODS) announced after the election that they did not want to be part of a government led by a suspected criminal. Babiš’s first ministry proposal was voted down by the Chamber of Deputies in January 2018. Not until six months later, at the end of June, did Babiš present a new government approved by the House of Commons. Now the Social Democrats had changed and formed a coalition with the ANO which was supported by the Communists. It was the first time that the Communist Party played an active role in a government formation since 1989, when the so-called Samet Revolution ended the Communist Party’s power monopoly (see Modern History). The cooperation with the Communists triggered, among other things, large protests in Prague, which were also directed against Babiš personally. Babiš was a member of the Communist Party during the Communist era and has been accused of being a signatory to the security police.
Although the Czech Republic has enjoyed good economic growth and has the lowest unemployment rate in the EU, a general dissatisfaction with the conditions in the country has characterized the mood in recent years. Reluctance against the EU’s demand for shared responsibility for caring for refugees has also increased. Strong strong anti-Islamic opinion has grown in strength despite the fact that the number of refugees in general, and Muslims in particular, is very low in the Czech Republic. The criticism of Islam has been cited, among others, by President Miloš Zeman, who has often spoken of Muslims in very rough terms. With his xenophobic rhetoric, Zeman has provoked disgust internationally but has become very popular at home. Zeman was re-elected president in early 2018.
Zeman’s views on migration and refugee reception are shared by the government. The Czech Republic, together with neighboring countries, has been sidelined when the EU tried to distribute refugees from camps in Italy and Greece to other member states. The Czech Republic was also one of five countries that voted no at the end of 2018 when the UN General Assembly ratified an international agreement aimed at establishing legal and safe routes for migration. In this connection, Prime Minister Babiš stated that the Czech Republic’s no was part of the government’s strategy against illegal immigration. “We will not accept a single migrant,” was Babiš’s clear message to the outside world.
When it comes to the fight against corruption, Babiš has a worrying starting point. The Czech Republic as a whole is judged by Transparency International as one of the better countries in the region, but Babiš himself is at the center of several cases of suspected corruption. A case concerns a conference center outside Prague, which in 2007 received two million euros in EU funding. The grant was earmarked for small businesses. Babiš has stated that at the time of the grant, the center was owned by family members. It was later transferred to Babiš conglomerate Agrofert who would not have qualified for the grant. In April 2019, the police closed the investigation and recommended that prosecution be brought against Babiš, but in September the prosecutor who took over the case announced that he had changed his mind and no longer saw reasons to pursue it. The case was thus moved up to a higher level within the legal system.
In another process, Babiš is being scrutinized by the EU for violating the law that was adopted in early 2017, which is supposed to prevent government members from getting into conflicts of interest because of their business interests. The law prohibits members of the government from owning media and says that companies that are more than 25 percent owned by a minister may not be awarded public assignments or government grants. The law prompted Babiš to transfer Agrofert to a trust fund, but in May 2019, the EU Commission stated in a preliminary report that this was not enough but that Babiš was still Agrofert’s real principal and thus exposed himself to an illegal conflict of interest.
The news of the report triggered major demonstrations in June demanding Babi’s departure. The protesters also turned against Babiš in April appointing a new Minister of Justice, a person considered by the opposition to be able to favor Babiš in a possible future trial.
Protests against the change of Justice Minister took place occasionally in May. Despite growing criticism, the ANO won the European Parliament elections at the end of the month. ANO’s continued popularity contributes to the record low unemployment and that wages and pensions have been able to increase in recent years. Coalition partner The Social Democrats make a bad choice, as does the government’s support party, the Communist Party. For the opposition parties ODS and the Pirate Party, the election was a success.
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FACTS – POLITICS
Česká republika / Czech Republic
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Miloš Zeman (2013–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (2017–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Disgruntled Citizens Action / ANO (78), Democratic Citizenship / ODS (25), Czech Pirate Party (22), Freedom and Direct Democracy / SPD (22), Bohemian and Moravian Communist Party (15), Social Democratic Party / ČSSD (15), Christian Democratic Union -People Party / KDU-ČSL (10), TOP 09 (7), Mayor and Independence / STAN (6) (2017)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Social Democratic Party / ČSSD (50), Disgruntled Citizens Action / ANO (47), Bohemian and Moravian Communist Party (33), TOP 09 (26), Democratic Citizenship / ODS (16), Dawn of the Direct Democracy (14), Christian Democratic Union-People’s Party / KDU-ČSL (14) (2013)
60.8% in the 2017 parliamentary elections; 61.9% in the first round of the 2018 presidential election and 66.6% in the second round
parliamentary elections 2021, presidential elections 2023