News / Europe

Czech Tycoon Emerges as Kingmaker

Circus owner Jaromir Joo, right, holds tiger cub as he congratulates Andrej Babis, leader of ANO movement, Prague, Oct. 26, 2013.
Circus owner Jaromir Joo, right, holds tiger cub as he congratulates Andrej Babis, leader of ANO movement, Prague, Oct. 26, 2013.
Reuters
Czech Social Democrats won a slim victory in a parliamentary election on Saturday but faced a tough task forming a government after a wave of voter anger over sleaze and budget cuts propelled new protest parties into parliament.
 
With most results in, Bohuslav Sobotka's center-left, pro-European Social Democrats had 21 percent of the vote, well short of the 30 percent they had targeted and in need of more than one coalition partner to build a stable government.
 
In an outcome echoing the success of anti-establishment parties elsewhere in Europe such as Beppe Grillo's 5-Star movement in Italy, the big winner was an anti-graft movement ANO (Yes) led by Slovak-born billionaire businessman Andrej Babis.
 
The Slovak-born billionaire and political novice now becomes a king-maker of Czech politics. The mercurial 59-year-old overcame being a non-native Czech speaker and a hazy political program to win 18.7 percent of the vote in the election, just behind the Social Democrats, who garnered a disappointing 20.5 percent.
 
Given rivalries and ill-will among some of the other parties, it seemed the formation of any new government could require the involvement of a candidate whose campaign consisted of a simple message — that he was not a politician.
 
"I would not go into politics if the country functioned normally," Babis told Reuters in an interview last month.
 
"We could be much better off. We used to be among the best European countries before World War Two and we should take advantage of the potential we have."
 
Czech voters, tired of a long string of graft scandals that have tarnished the political elite, saw Babis as a self-made man who earned money from business rather than shady public tenders.
 
"He is making the same appeal as [Eurosceptic Frank] Stronach in Austria or [Silvio] Berlusconi in Italy, which is that he is a practical businessman who can get things done, who has done things in life, and who can run the country like a firm," said Sean Hanley, senior lecturer of Slavonic East European Studies at University College London.
 
"He has managed to put himself across as an anti-establishment outsider, but also as fairly moderate and sensible."
 
Yet the wealthy Babis, a former Communist party member, is also an unlikely rallying point for Czechs left behind in a society where the gap between rich and poor has widened since the fall of Communism.
 
Babis first built a career in a Socialist-era chemicals trading firm during the 1980s, which he parlayed into a multi-billion dollar diversified business after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that swept the Communists from power.
 
His companies employ 28,000 people across central Europe, and had a turnover of $6.91 billion last year. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $2 billion.
 
Critics, however, point out that he prospered in the same post-communist environment that he now criticizes. Babis has said he would keep ownership of his firms even if he entered government.
 
An executive familiar with his empire says Babis, a demanding boss who only sleeps a few hours daily, keeps tight control of all of his businesses.
 
He also eschews gadgets, and until recently carried around a desk calendar to update his schedule, saying on his Twitter account: "Nobody will hack this."
 
Babis won over voters with his straightforward talk, and has overcome suspicions surrounding his membership of the Communist Party as a rank-and-file member, something he has said he did to advance his career.
 
He has also admitted to having had contacts with the hated communist secret police, which he said was part of his job involving foreign firms, but he vigorously denies allegations he was an agent and is contesting them in a Slovak court.
 
Earlier this year, Babis agreed to buy two national newspapers, raising fears of meddling with the press.
 
Soon after, he called a reporter to demand an explanation as to why the newspaper did not cover Babis's news conference. He later apologized and pledged not to influence content, yet several senior journalists left.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid