COMMENT: Andrej Babis - the Czech dealmaker turns kingmaker

By bne IntelliNews October 15, 2013

James de Candole of Candole Partners -

Most would agree on why the institution of the political party in the Czech Republic has failed. Many would even put an exact date on when it failed - June 1998.

The "Opposition Agreement" between then prime minister Milos Zeman and then opposition leader Vaclav Klaus redefined the role of parliament, reducing it to an obedient extension of the executive branch. All big decisions were taken by the two party leaders and the business interests that stood behind them, with parliament lending its procedural legitimacy.

Such a parliament and such parties do not confer legitimacy for long. And so it has turned out. Today, the marginalisation of the parliamentary party, which began in 1998, is almost complete. Real lobbyists meet party leaders, not parliamentarians.

For some voters the problem is how to restore the legitimacy of a parliamentary system without credible political parties. But for others the problem is more radical: it is the problem of whom to replace the parliamentary system with - current President Milos Zeman or tycoon-turned-new party leader Andrej Babis.

(Don't panic! You shall get both. Babis and his ANO 2011 will choose to govern with centre-left Social Democrats (CSSD): the question is which CSSD, Milos Zeman's or the party chairman's.)

Neither Babis' ANO nor Zeman's Party of Citizens' Rights - the Zemanites (SPOZ) makes a serious attempt to look like a political party. Indeed, it would be a mistake for them do so. Their appeal rests in each case on the hope that one outstanding individual can solve the problems caused by the failure of an entire system.

It is a remarkably foolish hope. It was expressed most recently by another outstanding individual, the jockey Josef Vana. He said on October 13 after the big race in Pardubice that if Babis were allowed to run the country as he runs his company, we would all be much better off.

Babis is not King Midas and the Czech Republic is not an agro-chemicals firm (although it sometimes resembles an energy firm.)

A long memory is a great nuisance when deciding how to vote. The single biggest advantage for ANO is that we can all remember the greed and stupidity of the parties that have been running the country for the last 20 years. But none of us have a clue about how Babis has been running his business since 1993 - after all, he remains to this day the only shareholder of Agrofert Group.

In my opinion, a vote for ANO is a vote against the restoration of a healthy parliamentary system of government. I say this not because the alternatives are desirable but because, as political parties, they are accountable - if we choose to hold them to account.

How do you hope to hold the sole owner of Agrofert to account? How does a "party" consisting of a lobbyist (Pavel Telicka), an actor (Martin Stropnicky) and a journalist (Martin Komarek) hope to hold a billionaire accountable?

A vote for ANO is a vote for the concentration of political power in the hands of Andrej Babis - and very possibly, in the hands of Milos Zeman as well.

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