The following opinion article was originally published on Radio Praha by Ian Willoughby
The political future of current Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš seems rather up in the air at present. His perceived ally Miloš Zeman may struggle to win re-election in the second round of presidential elections next week and, with Mr. Babiš likely to face criminal charges, the ANO chief now says another top party figure could lead the government. I discussed the situation with political scientist Petr Just.
“If Zeman loses, then the situation for Babiš would be much more complicated, with the perspective of a second or potentially other efforts to form a government.
“As we know, [Mr. Zeman’s challenger] Mr. [Jiří] Drahoš has previously declared that he would be very cautious about appointing a prime minister who is under criminal investigation.”
On Wednesday Mr. Babiš said in an interview that it wasn’t his dream to be prime minister, that he doesn’t need to be the PM, and that somebody else from his ANO party could head the government. Is that a sign that he’s willing to take a kind of back seat? And if it is, what role would he take in that situation?
“This option was discussed several times before the elections, when for example the name of Mr. [Richard] Brabec, the current deputy prime minister and minister of the environment, was mentioned as a possible alternative to Mr. Babiš in leading the government.
“Although Mr. Babiš says he’s open to being replaced by somebody else, he always adds that it depends on how the movement [party] decides.
“And so far the movement is loyally behind Mr. Babiš.
“If the situation would take a turn and even the movement’s members and leadership would agree with replacing Mr. Babiš as prime minister with some other candidate, then I expect that Mr. Babiš could possibly play a role similar to Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland.
“He’s just a regular MP without any leadership function, but he’s still the most influential person in Poland.
“And this could be the role that Mr. Babiš would play: standing behind the scenes and still being the leader of the party, leader of the strongest movement in the Czech Republic.
“More or less government, and the prime minister, whoever it would be, would probably be loyal to Mr. Babiš and would consult with him a lot of leadership decisions.”
From today’s perspective, how likely do you think that scenario is?
“It will all depend on the outcome of the presidential elections, and so far the chances of Mr. Zeman and Mr. Babiš are fifty-fifty, I would say.
“The differences between both candidates [for president] when it comes to voter preference are very small, they are within the margin of statistical error, and then of course the situation is very unclear now.
“So this question is quite hard – it will really depend on the results of the presidential elections.”