Czech billionaire's party ANO wins general elections

Cheryl Sanders
October 23, 2017

Partial results from the Czech Republic's parliamentary election on Saturday showed the centrist ANO (Yes) movement led by populist billionaire Andrej Babis heading toward a decisive victory in a vote shaping up to shift the Central European nation to the right.

"It's a huge success", the 63-year-old Babis told supporters and journalists at his headquarters in Prague.

Turnout of the vote was 60.2 percent.

Babis is the county's second-richest man, with a media empire including two major newspapers and a popular radio station.

The 73-year-old pro-Chinese, pro-Russian and anti-Muslim veteran leftwinger said he would use the entire 30-day period following elections to convene the first session of parliament after the election to give parties - and Babis - room for talks.

The far-right Freedom and Free Democracy (SPD) party of Tokyo-born entrepreneur and lawmaker Tomio Okamura scored 10.6 percent (22 seats) support on strong anti-EU, anti-migrant and anti-Islam rhetoric, similar to surging far-right parties in neighbouring Austria and Germany. He favours a united Europe and balks at talk of a "Czexit". One of them is the Euroskeptic extreme right-wing Freedom and Direct Democracy party with links to Marine Le Pen's National Front.

The opposition conservative Civic Democrats came in a distant second with 11.3 percent of the vote and 25 seats. He also took credit for strong economic growth, the lowest unemployment rate in the 28-member European Union and a budget surplus (the Czech Republic is the most successful of the ex-communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004).

The Social Democrats, the senior party in the outgoing government, captured only 7.3 percent and 15 seats, while the Christian Democrats won only 5.8 percent support and 10 seats.

ANO has already held key posts in the outgoing rocky centre-left coalition under Social Democrat Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, with Babis serving as finance minister from 2014 to May this year.

"I think his policy is for the people", she told AFP.

With joblessness at 3.8 percent in September, the Czech economy which is heavily reliant on vehicle exports is slated to grow by 3.6 percent this year.

Despite the strong economy, young Prague voter Jiri Chaloupek said he chose the SPD as "this country needs a change, a rather radical change".

"We have to fight for our interests", he said.

"I'm asking myself what the elections would look like if we weren't in such good shape economically".

Altogether, 9 parties have passed the five-percent hurdle to enter the parliament.

Other reports by iNewsToday