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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora