PRAGUE — The ANO party of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš appears to have suffered a surprise defeat in the Czech election, casting doubt on his political future.
In addition, the Social Democrats and the Communists, who ruled as part of Babiš’s coalition government, failed to reach the 5 percent threshold required to enter parliament.
With 99 percent of the ballots tallied, the three-party, center-right SPOLU (meaning Together) coalition was credited with 27.62 percent of the vote, with ANO at 27.28 percent. The Pirates/STAN partnership got a disappointing 15.47 percent, after polls in July had shown them receiving nearly twice that figure.
However, Czech President Miloš Zeman is still widely expected to task Babiš with forming a new government because he leads the individual party with the most votes. Zeman has said he believes election coalitions are “a scam.”
However, with both the Communists and the Social Democrats out of parliament, it seems unlikely that Babiš will be able to find enough support to remain in power and a period of political instability now looks certain.
Petr Just, a political scientist at Metropolitan University Prague, said Babiš may ask the far-right SPD led by Tonio Okamura, which polled at 9.63 percent, to join his government.
“All options are open, including ANO with either direct or indirect support of the SPD,” Just said via email.
Babiš clearly positioned himself on the far right during the campaign, drumming home his fierce opposition to accepting migrants in the Czech Republic, declaring that he was against the EU’s Green Deal and even calling for the abolition of the European Parliament.
However, a coalition of ANO and SPD would be well short of a majority in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies. They are on course to get 92 seats.
The opposition SPOLU and Pirate-STAN coalitions, on the other hand, would have a combined 107 seats. Similar coalitions currently run the city halls of the two largest cities in the country, Prague and Brno.
According to Just, the prime minister may also try and move back to the center by asking the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS) — the largest party in SPOLU — to join his government.
“There are voices inside ODS that do not rule it out, provided Babiš is not part of the government,” he said. “And there are voices in ANO that would prefer an alliance with ODS instead of SPD. Babiš will be moving back and forth between these two options.”
The wild card is Zeman, whose health has deteriorated over the past two weeks. Rumors have circulated in Czech media that he is seriously ill, but his office has provided little information.
On Friday, the president’s spokesman admitted that Zeman had been ill for the past two weeks, without offering details. Though the president canceled some post-election appearances, his office insisted he is well enough to perform his constitutional duties.
Babiš’s weak electoral showing came as something as a surprise as his fierce anti-migrant stance appeared to resonate with many voters. But there was strong opposition to him in Prague and other cities.
He was certainly not helped by the publication of the Pandora Papers, which detailed how Babiš had used shell companies to buy property and a luxury chateau on the French Riviera in 2009.
Czech police have said they will investigate the revelations.
Babiš is also being investigated over allegations of EU subsidy fraud and has been accused of bungling the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Czech Republic currently has the seventh-highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world.
One of the first tasks facing the next prime minister will be to name a new health minister. On Thursday, just one day before polls opened, Babiš announced that Adam Vojtěch would leave the post on November 1 to become ambassador to Finland. That may well have been Babiš’s final controversial act as head of the Czech government.