Babis will remain a legislator in Czech parliament and his party’s leader

Babis will remain a legislator in Czech parliament and his party’s leader
Billionaire Andrej Babis with his wife Monika. There had been speculation that she might take over as party leader. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera in Prague February 9, 2023

Andrej Babis, the Czech billionaire opposition leader and founder of the populist ANO party,  confirmed that he would remain a deputy in the lower house of the Czech parliament, ending speculations that he could step down as a deputy and perhaps even as ANO leader after he lost the presidential runoff against former army chief of staff general Petr Pavel in January.

Babis founded the ANO party in the early 2010s, styling it as an anti-corruption party of disenfranchised citizens in response to corruption scandals that brought down cabinets led by the neoliberal ODS party.

With 72 deputies, ANO is by far the strongest party in the parliament but was ousted from power in October 2021 after the SPOLU group of centre-right parties, led by ODS, united with the morecentrist Pirate Party and Mayors and Independents for a majority of 108 in the Chamber of Deputies of 200.

Babis has remained his party’s undisputed leader since then but speculations appeared over ANO's future after high-profile ANO politicians from the socially troubled Moravian-Silesian region, where ANO is powerful, criticised Babis’ presidential campaign. ANO’s governor of the region Ivo Vondrak, who openly backed Pavel in the presidential race, resigned from his post in the ANO leadership on Wednesday.    

Babis used his press conference following the party leadership meeting to once again denigrate democratic institutions such as the parliament and the media.

“I have finally come to understand the way it works. You must always be there when you click [during the voting], and other than that, they are in their offices,” Babis said in mockery of the workings of the parliament, which he often referred to as a “talking rubbish” place.

The agro-chemicals tycoon, whose media empire openly backed his campaign, also reiterated that there is a media witch hunt against him.  “I won’t be as active neither in the media, because the media have constructed THE evil out of me during those years,” Babis said, adding that this will “probably be the only change.”

Babis and his lieutenants Alena Schillerova and Karel Havlicek will remain as ANO’s key faces.

“We go on. Of course. And in full strength,” former minister of finance Schillerova tweeted. She also stated that the “values on which Andrej Babis founded the Movement ANO are more acute with every new week of this government’s rule.”

The billonaire also stated clearly that he intends to continue with his strategy of appealing to left and right-wing voters and will target voters of the far-right and anti-EU SPD, as well as the non-parliamentary Social Democrats, who he accused of  betraying the interests of their electorate.. 

Politicians from the ruling coalition have long criticised ANO for not having a clear political ideology. Babis and ANO have been trying to unite the anti-corruption and business rhetoric of ANO’s early years, when it attracted an array of public figures to its agenda, together with aggressive appeals to the socially vulnerable electorate, exploiting the energy crisis and the government’s struggles to mitigate the impact of the rising costs of living.

“We have been an anti-corruption movement and a catch-all party since the very beginning,” Babis told the media, describing the centre-right government as “anti-social”.