On Oct. 20, an anti-establishment political party founded by a media mogul won the general election in the Czech Republic.
ANO, which is an acronym for the Czech name "Action of Dissatisfied Citizens" and translates to the word “yes” in Czech, won 30 percent of the vote and beat the Social Democrats, the Czech Republic’s longstanding party up until this point.
Andrej Babiš, the founder of the party, and therefore the Prime Minister designate, is a tough-talking tycoon who promised to run the Czech Republic like a business. His party proposes a cleanout of the government — a removal of all the supposedly corrupt political and elite figures who have been running the country.
Although Babiš' supporters celebrate this supposed win against corruption and the establishment, many Czech citizens are concerned that Babiš, a billionaire who had been investigated on corruption charges and tax crimes himself, will send the Czech Republic in the opposite direction from what he promises.
“This man, who came to his wealth because of corruption, builds his campaign on a slogan 'Down with the Corruption,' represents everything his supporters do not like about 'the system,' but they trust him anyway,” Michal Plzák, a history professor at The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education – Economics Institute, said.
Because Babiš embodies the character he seems to declare has no place in politics, some believe that his political aspirations come strictly from a place of desire for power, rather than an intent to truly help the country.
“He is using the country to enrich himself more and more," Lukáš Vopršal, a senior at Charles University in Prague, said. "He found success everywhere and now he’s thinking, 'okay what can I do now to get more power.'" Vopršal voted against Babiš in the election.
Though Babiš claims to be anti-establishment and anti-corruption, the rest of his policies seem unclear. He has found political success by making broad and vague claims — his campaign slogan for ANO was “Things Will Get Better.” What is obvious, however, is that anyone who disagrees with Babiš is not welcome.
“ANO — it is not a party – it is a one-man movement," Plzák said. "All of Babiš' members are just his puppets – those few, who expressed a difference in opinion, are no longer there."
Babiš also uses fear as a tactic to gain supporters. He is vehemently against the acceptance of refugees within the Czech Republic, particularly Muslims. With these anti-immigrant policies, as well as the billionaire’s blunt and outspoken nature, many people have made comparisons between him and U.S. President Trump.
“He declares himself a populist that has a ‘traditional’ ideology like Trump — slogans that appeal to the emotions of an angry crowd, vague promises that seem easy to break, and good marketing," Plzák said. "Babiš is very similar to Trump."
Furthermore, some citizens are concerned that Babiš owns multiple newspapers in the Czech Republic.
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“As a journalism student, I am concerned about the freedom of the press," Vopršal said. "It’s unfair that he can control a part of the media to make sure it represents him in a flattering way. People in politics or connected in government should not own media at all."
Plzák also used to write for Lidové noviny, one of the newspapers Babiš controls, from time to time, he said.
“But last week I refused to go on. It is no longer an option for me,” Plzák said.
Though Babiš still has many supporters — mostly frustrated citizens from a lower socio-economic class who feel ignored by the current government — many are also deeply concerned for the future of their country.
“Because of his lack of democratic orientation, wisdom and principles, people like Babiš should not have any position in politics," Plzák said. "The state is just a laboratory for his power experiment and he is obviously ready to play with fire, foolishly thinking it is just a game."
Contributor Charlotte Stone is currently studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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