Latest poll before Czech general election shows potential stalemate

Latest poll before Czech general election shows potential stalemate
According to the poll, Babis would need the support of extremist parties to form a government with a working majority.
By bne IntelliNews October 3, 2021

The latest opinion poll to be published before the Czech general election next weekend showed there is likely to be a stalemate in the distribution of seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Despite the ANO party of  populist Prime Minister Andrej Babis winning with 27.3%, it would have a hard time finding suitable coalition partners, while the two opposition coalitions (Pirates/STAN and SPOLU) would not be able to form a majority, according to the poll conducted by the STEM agency for CNN Prima News published on October 3.

Babis´ ANO would win 65 seats, followed by the centre-right coalition SPOLU (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP09) with 21.4% (49 seats), the coalition of the Pirates and STAN (Mayors and Independents) with 17.4% (39 seats), and the far-right SPD of Tomio Okamura with 12.3% (27 seats). 

Also making it to the Chamber of Deputies over the 5% threshold would be the Communists with 6.5% (12 seats) and the Prisaha (Oath) party of former policeman Robert Slachta with 5.7% (8 seats). The junior ruling party Social Democrats with 4.4% would fail to win any seats in the lower house. 

The new government needs to have a majority of 101 seats in the parliament. SPOLU and Pirates/STAN would only have 88 seats and would not have any potential partners that would give them a majority.

The coalitions of SPOLU and Pirates/STAN have claimed that they would never create a government with ANO, thus Babis would have to approach two of the SPD, the Communists or Oath to negotiate at least their tacit support. Such a government with extremist parties would be extremely controversial, both domestically and internationally.

The possibility of such a stalemate has had some commentators predicting a deal between Babis and some of the parties in the SPOLU coalition, though both have rejected this publicly. 

A stalemate could also lead to President Milos Zeman creating his own government and allowing it to rule without a vote of confidence for as long as possible.

Compared to the STEM poll carried out at the beginning of September, Babis´ ANO has dropped from 32.4%. STEM director Martin Buchtik explained that ANO's decrease of roughly five percentage points does not mean the movement has lost its voters since the previous poll. "They didn't actually go anywhere, they remained with ANO. Just, the undecided voters have moved on to other parties," he explained.

"The STEM model shows the situation at the end of September, roughly 10 days before the election. Yet one in seven voters is hesitant about which party – or if any – to vote for. In the final stretch of a political party's campaign, they are aiming not just at convincing the hesitant voters, but to some extent at reducing the willingness of potential voters of rival parties to participate in the elections," the agency commented.

"The parties that will decide will be those that are around the 5 percent threshold. It's an open game, you can't even tell a week before the election. That's where these elections are quite exceptional," Buchtik added.

On October 3, CNN Prima held a pre-election debate ´Czechia is looking for a prime minister´ in which viewers could vote for their PM, from the leaders of the four best polling parties: PM Andrej Babis (ANO), Ivan Bartos (Pirates/STAN), Petr Fiala (SPOLU) and Tomio Okamura (SPD). 

The discussion opened with a question on the latest findings published on October 3 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists´ Czech partner website, part of the new global Pandora Papers project,  which found that Babis sent almost CZK400mn through his offshore companies to buy real estate on the French Riviera, including the Bigaud chateau, while keeping his ownership secret.

The disclosure is a grave embarrassment for the premier, who has claimed to be an anti-corruption champion, stressing that his businesses pay taxes in the Czech Republic, unlike those owned by other oligarchs, and who in government has cracked down on tax evasion by small businesses.

“In November 2009, Babis injected $22mn into his BVI company, Blakey Finance, according to leaked emails between Babis’ Panamanian and French lawyers. The funds were then transferred to his D.C. company, which forwarded them to its Monaco subsidiary, SCP Bigaud,” the ICIJ report says. 

According to the documents, this acquisition involved 16 properties in Mougins ー including Château Bigaud. However, the asset declaration forms show that the chateau property and the companies involved in its ownership are missing in documents the Czech PM filed, as required by Czech law.

“It’s not a level playing field when all the citizens are required to pay taxes and abide by financial transparency rules, and there’s people who can opt out,” said economist Petr Jansky. 

"This case is from 2009, the timing is interesting, two hours before this debate. The man who bankrupted OKD [mining company], the one who has this system of anti-Babis newspapers, this is his work," Babis said, referring to Zdenek Bakala, the owner of the Economia publishing house.

“I was waiting to see what they would pull on me right before the elections to damage me and influence the Czech elections. This time with a 12-year-old case. Before I entered politics. There is no case they could have pulled on me in the time I have been in politics,” Babis said, adding that it's the same before every election, “they bring up something from the distant past only to have it turn out that nothing happened”.

The opposition leaders responded during the live debate that the affair must be investigated. "It has elements of corruption ... People are paying expensive mortgages, while the PM has made other arrangements," said Ivan Bartos, head of the Pirates.

"This is a huge international scandal … [The PM] must say whether he used untaxed money. The prime minister has fought against tax havens and then used them [to his benefit]," pointed out Fiala. 

The website said that in France Babis will need to prove the origin of money spent on purchase of real estate, while in the US he has also faced an investigation for suspicion of money laundering. 

"The Czech police may also start investigating the case if it finds reasonable suspicion of money laundering. Given that the loan was not due until 2019, the case is not time-barred," added. 

According to Babis, the amount spent on the acquisition was properly taxed in Czechia and thus there is no money laundering, claiming he can provide an audit carried out by EY and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Other topics addressed during the CNN Prima pre-election debate were Czech inflation being at its highest level since 2008, the EU Green Deal, immigration, vaccination, coronavirus restrictions and a potential referendum on leaving the EU.

Based on the highest number of votes received from CNN Prima viewers, the second round of the CNN Prime pre-election debate was led by Andrej Babis (with 34.4% of votes) and Petr Fiala (with 35.4%) who at the end of the discussion stated that if they won the election they would never create a government with each other.