Czech political crisis leaves populist billionaire confronting potential rainbow coalition

Czech political crisis leaves populist billionaire confronting potential rainbow coalition
The centrist populist Ano party has extended its lead over the CSSD, according to the first opinion poll since the end of the coalition crisis.
By bne IntelliNews May 26, 2017

The ruling Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) was the clear loser from the recent coalition crisis, according to a new poll released by CVVM on May 26, while its coalition partner, the centrist and populist Ano party, expanded its lead to close to 20 points.

The poll suggests Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka failed in his attempt to revive the left-leaning CSSD’s support by insisting Ano leader Andrej Babis be sacked as finance minister due to alleged financial irregularities. Babis, now free to start campaigning ahead of the October elections, continues to appear destined to take over the PM’s chair following the vote. However, the poll also suggests there could be a greater chance following the crisis of a rainbow coalition to defeat the populist billionaire.

The survey conducted by CVVM on behalf of the Academy of Sciences shows support for CSSD dropped by 2 points to just 14% over the last month. Sobotka initially sought on May 2 to force the resignation of the coalition government, but was blindsided by an apparent deal between Babis and President Milos Zeman, who said he would accept just the PM’s resignation. Sobotka then withdrew the offer, and fought Zeman to force him under the constitution to sack Babis.

The president finally fired the finance minister on May 24, officially ending the constitutional crisis. However, Sobotka will now push to try to get the finance ministry to investigate claims of tax evasion and financial irregularities against Babis. However, with Ano member Ivan Pilny replacing his boss as finance minister, little real action is likely.

The billionaire Ano leader is also under pressure over leaked tapes that show him seeking to order coverage of CSSD political scandals by Mlada fronta Dnes – one of the broadsheets he owns – to be timed to his advantage.

However, despite large protests against the Zeman-Babis tandem in recent weeks, the mud is not sticking. While Ano did see its support drop slightly over the last month, according to CVVM, it was only to the tune of 0.5 point, leaving the party’s support at 33%

Some analysts suggest Zeman could be the biggest loser from the crisis, given his refusal to follow the constitution and eventual defeat on that stance.

CSSD, and indeed the remaining parliamentary parties, rallied behind Sobotka during the crisis, as he took on the increasingly powerful Babis – who runs on an anti-establishment ticket – and the rambunctious Zeman. Sobotka – a bitter enemy of the head of state for years due to intra-party fighting – said CSSD will now put up a candidate to challenge Zeman in the January presidential election.

However, if the poll is correct, the uncharismatic Sobotka appears to have blown his big gambit to take on the Czech Republic’s two most popular political figures. With the CSSD poll numbers falling further, he may now face a renewed battle within his party, though so far it has united behind him.

The biggest winner of the crisis appears to be the centre-right ODS, which saw its support grow by 4 points to 13%. The party was CSSD’s only real rival until the last election, when its government collapsed amid corruption scandals. It now sits above the communist KSCM, which saw its support drop to 11.5%.

Support for the Christian Democrats, the junior partner in the current coalition, grew 2 points to 8.5%. The centre right Top 09 also gained, adding 1 point to 7%.

While there are deep divisions between CSSD and the smaller parties to the right, the apparent revival of those conservative parties raises the possibility of a grand coalition. The Zeman-Babis tandem has caused concern across the political spectrum, though the ODS may eventually prefer to join with Babis’ nominally liberal political vehicle.