Tuesday, 24 October 2017

HN: Perfect image of Babiš starts falling into pieces

ČTK |
22 September 2017

Prague, Sept 21 (CTK) - The myth that ANO leader Andrej Babis is a perfect manager who can make life better for everybody through his vision of running the Czech state as a business seems to be disintegrating due to the Financial Administration's errors, Petr Honzejk wrote in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Thursday.

One month before the general election it seems clear that nothing can prevent Babis from winning, Honzejk writes.

Opinion polls have been showing for many months that the ANO movement has a double-digit lead over the other political parties.

The previous elections showed that the favourite may start losing in the last moments, Honzejk says, referring to the 2013 general election in which the then new ANO nearly caught up with the favourite Social Democratic Party (CSSD).

The repeating of this scenario leading to the shrinking of the camp of Babis's voters cannot be ruled out, Honzejk writes.

There are five reasons why ANO may not be celebrating a landslide election victory in October, he says.

First, the mistakes that Babis made have been turning out. When he was finance minister, the Financial Administration unlawfully liquidated a number of firms by property-freezing orders. Current Finance Minister Ivan Pilny (ANO), Babis's successor, had to apologise for this. Pilny said Babis had not paid enough attention to the issue and that he should have been more active, Honzejk writes.

Pilny's statement can be interpreted in two ways and neither of them is favourable for Babis. Either Babis considered innocent victims of the punishments a price that must be paid in order to push through his new rules for businesspeople, or he did not notice the errors. The first possibility would turn him into a repulsive figure for many voters, while the other would make him ridiculous after his repeated claims that he works hard, unlike the lazy career politicians, Honzejk writes.

Either way, people begin to doubt whether Babis's vision of running the state like a business is such a good idea, he says.

Second, Babis became successful by protesting against the present political system and traditional parties and by presenting ANO as a group with new, original approaches, but he is not fresh anymore and his protest ethos seems odd after ANO has been part of the government for four years. Paradoxically, some voters may consider Babis a part of the system, which he is criticising, Honzejk writes.

The previous general elections showed that voters look for absolutely new projects - Public Affairs in 2010, ANO in 2013. Voters may again support something totally new in the next election, a new leader whom they will be willing to trust in their protest against the current system, Honzejk writes.

He says this may bring voters to, for example, the Pirates, the Freedom of Direct Democracy (SPD) of Tomio Okamura or the Mayors and Independents (STAN) movement, at the expense of Babis.

Third, ANO's marketing stops being creative and Babis's first election video only repeats what he said many times before, lacking wit and vigour, Honzejk writes.

He says it seems as if ANO silently gave up winning over active and educated people and rather focused on older, less educated and less independent people who often want politics to give them a feeling of security and who consider it a way to take revenge on those more successful.

The Median polling agency concluded last year that the popularity of Babis decreased among people under the age of 50 and increased among those in their 50s and older. The votes of the older generations may suffice to win a clear victory in the forthcoming elections, yet it indicates that ANO is acquiring a defensive position, Honzejk writes.

Fourth, Babis has very long managed to present all the scandals related to him as a part of a campaign that a network of corrupt politicians in power waged against him, but this explanation does not work well anymore. In case of his recent criminal prosecution over a suspected subsidy fraud, most of the public rejected his conspiration theory, Honzejk says.

Even his claim that the one-crown bonds his huge Agrofert holding issued were not any tax evasion was challenged. After Babis had to leave the post of finance minister in the spring, the tax administration started filing complaints over these bonds, Honzejk writes.

Many controversial documents and recordings related to Babis were released on an anonymous Twitter account. Those who are behind this account may release something shortly before the election, which would harm ANO, Honzejk says.

Fifth, Czech voters have a tendency to try to balance the forces on the political scene and the underdog effect may play against Babis here, Honzejk writes.

He says this happened in 2006 when a landslide victory of the Civic Democrats (ODS) was expected, but then the ODS won only narrowly ahead of the CSSD led by Jiri Paroubek.

In 2010, it seemed that nothing can stop Paroubek from ruling the country, but then the CSSD ended up in opposition. In 2013, the CSSD of Bohuslav Sobotka hoped to become the dominant political force in the country, but finally its lead over ANO was merely 4 percentage points, Honzejk writes.

In short, it would be crazy to say Babis will not win the general election, but his victory may not be as crushing as it may seem now, he concludes.

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