Support for populist ANO dips ahead of Czech election but far right move up to 9.5%

Support for populist ANO dips ahead of Czech election but far right move up to 9.5%
ANO leader Andrej Babis on the campaign trail in Pilsen.
By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2017

Support for the populist Ano party has dipped ahead of the Czech general election now just four days away, but there is still a feasible prospect of it taking power in a coalition that could even rely on support from the far right and Communists.

An opinion poll released by Median on October 16 (prior to the polling blackout that starts on October 17) showed support for eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Ano has declined to 25%, down from 27% in September. The survey, conducted between September 26 and October 14 confirms a slight decline in the party's favourability ranking shown by various polls since the summer.

In mid-June support for the current junior partner in the Social Democrat (CSSD) led Czech government had surged to 32.8% of respondents in a Stem agency poll, a result which would likely give it 92 of the 200 seats in the lower house. The previous poll from that agency had Ano on 28.3%. On September 26, a CVVM poll had Ano on 30.9%, although that was 3.1 points down on three months previously.

How much the personal woes of Ano's founder and leader, agrochemicals and foodstuffs Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babis, are impacting on the polls is not fathomable at this stage.

On October 9, Babis confirmed he had been charged with fraud in the Capi hnizdo (Stork Nest) case centred on a €2.3mn EU subsidy obtained a decade ago. Then on October 12, Slovakia's Constitutional Court agreed to a request from Slovakia’s Institute of the Nation’s Memory that a lower court should re-examine a claim that Babis collaborated with the Czechoslovak communist-era secret police as an informer while he was a foreign trade official.

Babis has denied both the fraud allegations and the claim that he served as an agent for the Communist regime's plainclothes secret police force, State Security (StB), arguing that the timing of the cases made against him shows that his opponents have contrived to try and damage him in the run-up to the October 20-21 vote.

Far right, Pirates in the running

Although the CSSD, which polled second in the latest Median survey with 12.5% (down 1 percentage point), has not ruled out forming a new coalition with Babis should the election outcome make that possible, all eyes have been on the rise of the fringe parties, with the opinion polls showing eight parties in all could make it into parliament.

The Communists are remaining steady on around 10.5% of the vote, but Median showed the far-right, anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party jumping to some 9.5%, drawing on anti-immigration sentiment in a country that in 2015 had to accommodate almost none of the immigration wave. The Pirate Party, meanwhile, a Czech offshoot of the international Pirate movement that demands government transparency and fights for a digital agenda, attracted support of 8.5%. Centre-right TOP 09, an established party, polled at 6%, meaning it is edging towards a level that would mean no representation in parliament.

Daniel Herman, the Christian Democrat culture minister, has said that his party would go to any lengths to block a coalition government of Ano, the Communists and SPD.