By Sara Sivkova, Analyst KEDISA
At the start of this year, the polls for the upcoming Czech parliamentary elections were in favour of the coalition Pirates and Mayors opposing the currently-in-power ANO, a party led by the prime minister Andrej Babis. Nevertheless, the latest survey brings a surprising situation where ANO regains its leading position, leaving its rivals behind. Based on the report of multiple poll agencies, the outcome of the pre-election polls of this year´s parliamentary election is since June in favour of the current leading party ANO. This fact is supported by the leading Czech polling agencies like Kantar, Median, STEM and CVVM, as well as by the international agencies POLITICO or PolitPro.
It is difficult to categorise ANO to any existing political group as it builds its agenda on being at the centre of the political spectrum, effectively shifting its discourse to resonate with the views of its core voters, in this case elderly, lower middle class and students. These are won over with populist slogans and financial incentives, such as raises in pensions, significant discounts in public transport or lower labour taxation. Therefore, ANO´s political affiliation meets the expectations and opinions of the general public and it changes with the public opinion, making it unanimously a populist party. There are of course some key points in ANO´s agenda that are constant like their core foreign policy priorities.
The contemporary ANO´s foreign agenda is in favour of remaining in the international organizations both NATO and the EU. With the upcoming presidency of the Czech Republic in the EU Council (July 1st, 2022), the association with the EU is a fundamental element in the ANO´s agenda. Although, there is a discrepancy in ANO´s pro-EU agenda when it comes to Europeanization processes. The ANO party is strictly against acquiring the euro as a national currency for the Czech Republic. This party uses strong rhetoric when addressing the acceptance of the euro and they are not afraid to use populist slogans such as calling the adoption of the euro a threat to national sovereignty. When it comes to ANO international politics, their statement is such that the top priority remains especially the fight against terrorism and illegal migration. When it comes to the relations with the neighbouring countries the party is putting emphasis especially on the V4 countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia), followed by Germany and Austria as priority countries.
ANO is currently in a coalition with Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) with silent support from Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) and Direct Democracy party (SPD). ANO already previously manifested its efficiency to stay in power and it does not shy away from allying with less popular and controversial political parties, such as the communist KSČM or the infamous SPD, a Eurosceptic and anti-immigration, far-right party. In recent months there was also an occurrence of ANO and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) meetings, which might imply their possible alliance after the upcoming election. Such alliance is no novelty as their co-governing could be seen on the regional level in multiple regions like in Ustecky or Moravskoslezsky region. The ability and willingness to traverse the political environment and adhere to so many interest groups and potential partners are what makes ANO a true political chameleon.
During their last term as ruling party, ANOs populist rule started being associated with rapidly rising public debt, being a consequence of generous fiscal politics as well as the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the latter is often mentioned by the ANO party as the culprit to the deficit, in reality, it is mainly due to the abolition of the “super-gross labour tax”, which effectively cut the state income significantly. As the article from Prague morning suggests, the total public debt this year is expected to rise to 44.1 per cent of Czechia´s GDP. If the current course continues it is estimated that in 2022 the percentage will grow to 48.2 per cent and in 2024 close to 55 per cent of the GDP.
The above-mentioned issue with the public debt rising might help the opposing parties and coalitions in challenging the leading ANO party. There is the coalition SPOLU (a coalition of the ODS, Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People´s Party KDU-ČSL and the TOP 09 party) and the Pirates and Mayors coalition, both coalitions are trying to confront the leading ANO. In the situation when the opposition to the ANO party might win in the upcoming elections they would have to handle the hereditary issue. Such an indebted administration will have to tighten their belts and such austerity measures will not be perceived as a popular move, resulting in eventual re-electing of the current ANO party once again due to unpopular policies that would need to be applied by the opposition. In a way, the current ANO government is applying a scorched earth tactic against its political rivals.
There is one more key player in the upcoming elections – The president of the country. The Czech Republic is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic where the head of government is the Prime minister and the president is the head of state. President´s function is, therefore, more representative and even though he is the official head of state, his executive powers are limited. However, part of the president´s official executive powers is to appoint or dismiss the Prime minister and members of the Cabinet. Which makes him an essential figure in appointing the future government.
As the current Czech president, Miloš Zeman recently stated, he is not willing to appoint any coalition into the government but only a single party that will gain the highest percentage of votes in the upcoming election. The opposition in the form of either of the two coalitions would not be able to win the election because it will not be recognised as the winner by the Czech president, leaving only the ANO party as the sole winner of this election. Such an action from the Czech president would not violate the Constitutional law of the Czech Republic, however, it is perceived as highly controversial in Czech society.
The author expects ANO to narrowly win this election, however, its victory will have a sour aftertaste. There are various affairs connected to ANO administration during the Covid-19 pandemic. ANO being the governing party during the Covid-19 is being held responsible by the public for the inefficient management and frequent change of the head of the Ministry of Health during the pandemic. Such impetuous changes of the Minister of Health (4 different people held the office from mid 2020 to early 2021) are highly alarming especially during the time of health crisis, leaving the public without a stable healthcare leader during the time of need.
As stated above, the Czech president Zeman´s statement about appointing the singular winning party only just like his refusal to appoint certain judges and professors in the past, is seen as highly dishonourable, taking into consideration that the head of state should steer clear of making any political preferences during his presidency. At the same time, such a move from the president would only imply that there is a pre-established agreement with ANO and Prime minister Andrej Babis.
It is the author´s opinion that the result of the upcoming election in the Czech Republic is not predetermined, however, the polls suggest the dominance of the current-leading ANO party and only highly unprecedented events might shake its primacy. Nonetheless, the ANO is getting less support than it used to have in previous years, indicating that their core voters might start to be tired of ANOs shallow promises and unprofessionalism of the Prime minister in public discussions and management of the state.
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