Thursday, 23 November 2017

LN: ANO shifts leftwards, against EU in search of voters

ČTK |
20 October 2017

Prague, Oct 19 (CTK) - Czech government ANO of Andrej Babis has obviously shifted from the right leftwards in recent years and it changed from a pro-EU party into "an opaque cloud" eagerly opposing the dictate of Brussels before voters, Petr Kambersky writes in Lidove noviny (LN) on the eve of the general election on Thursday.

"I will not allow the [rival] Social Democrats (CSSD) to rob pensioners!" ANO swears in a fresh advertisement with Babis's portrait within its election campaign, Kambersky writes.

Young people should save money for their life in retirement, Babis said during the election campaign four years ago, when his ANO was contesting parliamentary seats for the first time.

The two different slogans well illustrate the transformation that ANO, the favourite of the October 20-21 elections, has undergone since 2013, Kambersky writes.

From a clearly pro-European and liberal-minded movement, ANO has developed into a project that is reserved towards Europe and with a "socialist conservative" approach to social issues, he writes.

Four years ago, ANO reminded of the present En Marche! of French President Emmanuel Macron as a liberal pro-European movement addressing a broad spectrum of voters. The situation is quite different now, Kambersky writes.

In 2013, ANO's election candidates included widely-respected intellectuals such as former Brno University rector Jiri Zlatuska, Mlada fronta Dnes daily's former chief commentator Martin Komarek and former EU commissioner Pavel Telicka, who showed voters that Babis, a Slovak-born chemical and food magnate and a political newcomer, is acceptable on the top policy level and that ANO may secure the country's liberal policy free of corruption, Kambersky writes.

None of these "guys from the posters," who contributed to ANO's image of a modern and liberal movement, figures among its candidates in the upcoming election, he writes.

Babis would deny ANO's shift leftwards, and he would say that new liberals have arisen in ANO, such as Ostrava University Rector Ivo Vondrak, Justice Minister Robert Pelikan and Regional Development Minister Karla Slechtova, he writes.

In practical policy, ANO keeps struggling against a tax increase, but in all other fields it has supported or straight adopted all excessively generous expenditures proposed by its government partner CSSD, Kambersky writes.

After his triumphal parliament entry in 2013, Babis worried about whether he could manage to keep ANO's 47-strong and rather incoherent group of deputies together in a situation where its members had no experience with politics, did not know each other, had different education and professions and espoused different values, Kambersky continues.

Nevertheless, the group, the second strongest in parliament after the CSSD's, showed unexpectedly firm, being left by a single deputy, Kristyna Zelienkova, during the four-year term.

Jaroslav Faltynek, the group's chairman and an experienced business aide to Babis, has evidently succeeded in keeping the group together, Kambersky writes.

While ANO's branches in many towns faced internal rows and disintegration, its lower house group kept coherent. Losing Zelienkova, it was on the contrary joined by a TOP 09 defector Karel Turecek, Kambersky writes.

Maybe the ANO group has paradoxically persisted because its candidates had not been chosen democratically. Many of them did not expect to be elected and none of them was a local politician who "finally" rose to top politics, but they each derived their identity and self-respect from other life chapters than politics, Kambersky writes.

The question is whether this unity of ANO lawmakers will survive after the forthcoming general election, he writes.

For the time being, public opinion polls indicate that the other parties will have no chance of forming a government without Babis, unless they decided to ally with the Communists (KSCM).

However, if Babis's victory were narrower than expected, the old matadors would definitely try to oust him, Kambersky writes.

ANO has made the biggest U-turn in its approach to European affairs, changing from a pro-EU party to a fierce critic of the migrant quotas and the dictate of Brussels, he writes.

Optimists may hope that ANO's policy will turn more pragmatic after the elections, but realists know that the slide its has embarked is quite difficult to leave, Kambersky concludes.

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