October 26, 2017
The ANO (“Yes”) party, led by Andrej Babis, an agro-industrialist billionaire, won a clear victory in the Czech general election on October 21st. Like other populist politicians, Mr Babis attacked established political parties as a cartel of insiders, despite himself serving as finance minister from 2013-17. “Traditional parties play this game of left and right, but they are not left and right,” Mr Babis says. “They have the same programme: power and money.” The message worked. ANO took 29.6% of the vote and 78 of 200 seats.
But as in many European countries, Czech politics is fragmenting. Nine parties will enter parliament, including everything from communists to far-right xenophobes, and there is no obvious coalition. Czech unemployment is low, the economy is growing and wages are rising. Yet voters seem more focused on fears that the European Union will force their country to accept refugees, and the sense that corrupt insiders have cornered the gains from the country’s decades-long transition to a market economy. Besides ANO, the two parties that gained the most were on the political fringes: the Pirate Party, which came third with 10.8%, followed by the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, which won 10.4%. Like Mr Babis’s party, they embody Czech voters’ disenchantment, but in different ways.
Even in the colourful field of European far-right populists, the SPD stands out. The party is a personal vehicle for its founder, Tomio Okamura, whose own background (he was born in Tokyo, and his father is half Japanese, half Korean) sits oddly with his racially provocative, anti-immigrant platform. Mr Okamura has played on anti-Roma prejudice by falsely claiming that the Nazis did not exterminate them based on race, but sent them to concentration camps because they refused to work. In a country with a negligible Muslim presence, he wants police to ferret out backers of sharia law. He also demands implausible EU reforms (such as ending freedom of movement), or a referendum on a Czech exit…