Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has launched a massive counter-offensive to the preliminary EU audit concluding that he has a conflict of interest due to strong links to his former business empire. While he refuses to meet with the organizers of the street protests against him, he has taken every opportunity to present himself as the victim of a targeted smear campaign intended to drive him out of politics.
The European Commission’s audit is full of half-truths and inconsistencies, it is an attack against the Czech Republic and its interests; an effort to destabilize the country. It is the work of incompetent auditors. Those are just some of the arguments with which the Czech prime minister defended himself in Parliament.
“We must refute this piece of nonsense that has arrived from Brussels – and you can be sure that the media will live off it for weeks and months – we must refute it, with hard facts and hard data.”
Speaking in Bratislava at the weekend, the prime minister said the Czech Republic was not Slovakia and there would be no change of government just because protesters were clamouring for it in the streets. He questioned the actual number of protesters at the last demonstration in Prague saying the media made it out to be bigger than it was, and stressed that the people protesting against him in the streets were simply dissatisfied with the outcome of the country’s democratic elections. He has repeatedly refused to meet with the protest organizers stressing that they are not interested in hearing his arguments –merely in seeing him go.
So how successful has the embattled Czech prime minister been in convincing the public that he is innocent of any wrong doing? A number of flash polls conducted in the midst of the crisis reveal that while Czechs feel that the prime minister is on thin ice with regard to his former business conglomerate, they are not ready for a change of government and if general elections were held in the country today the PM’s ANO party would still come out victorious, despite taking a slide as a result of the prime minister’s problems.
According to a poll conducted by the Median Agency, 55 percent of Czechs feel that the affair surrounding the prime minister is damaging the Czech Republic. Asked whether they believe that the prime minister had never used his influence in favour of the Agrofert conglomerate, 31 percent said they believed him, while 53 percent did not. 59 percent of respondents also expressed the view that the European Commission was following standard mechanisms in its approach to the affair. Asked whether the present crisis should lead to the fall of the government 70 percent of respondents answered “No”.
37 percent of respondents said they would like to see the government continue without the embattled prime minister, 33 percent said they would like to see it continue as it is. At the same time, 56 percent of respondents expressed the opinion that the government should ask the lower house for a vote of confidence.
The prime minister has dismissed the latter suggestion and challenged the opposition to call a vote of no-confidence, saying he would be happy to tell the nation how many billions of crowns in EU funds the country had lost due to their mismanagement. Even if they tabled the motion, the centre-right opposition parties know they lack the votes needed to bring down the government. At the present time they have 87 and would need 101. Their only chance is to win over some of the Social Democrat or Communist Party MPs who have said they will continue to support the Babiš administration. So in the coming weeks, the battle of words in the lower house and out in the streets is likely to continue.