Czechs go to the polls, embattled PM set to win

Protesters hold poster 'Babis in trap' as thousands of demonstrators gather at the Wenceslas Square to protest against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and new Minister of Justice in Prague, Czech Republic, 21 May 2019. [Bjoern Steinz/EPA/EFE]

Czechs will start voting Friday (24 May) in the European Parliament election, with the party of their embattled billionaire prime minister set to win amid expected low turnout and despite protests against his cabinet.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is facing criminal charges over EU subsidy fraud and an EU probe into his dual role as politician and entrepreneur.

Police recommend indicting Czech PM for fraud

Czech police believe billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babiš should be indicted for alleged involvement in EU subsidy fraud worth two million euros, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“The investigation is over and the complete file has been submitted to the state prosecutor …

In recent weeks, thousands of people have rallied against Babiš and his newly-appointed justice minister on fears she might try to clear him.

But a poll of more than 2,100 voters by the Median agency in March-May showed Babiš’s ANO (YES) party (ALDE-affiliated) may get over 25%, beating the right-wing Civic Democrats and the anti-establishment Pirates with 14% each.

“It is important for ANO to maintain the image of a victorious party,” Josef Mlejnek, a political analyst at Prague’s Charles University, told AFP.

ANO won the last general election in 2017 and formed a minority cabinet with the leftwing Social Democrats, backed by the Communists for a parliamentary majority.

Czech President pushes Babiš toward coalition with anti-EU, anti-NATO forces

The Czech president has advised Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to try to negotiate a new government with two fringe parties after coalition talks with the Social Democrats collapsed, Babiš said yesterday (11 April).

“Babiš needs the victory for psychological reasons,” said Mlejnek, adding that a victory would make it easier for the premier to wave aside the protests.

Tomas Lebeda, an analyst at Palacky University in the eastern city of Olomouc, agrees that the stakes are high for Babiš, who is against adopting the euro.

“He is expected to win by a broad margin. If it doesn’t happen, some people may start to ask if his position is as strong as it seems,” Lebeda told AFP.

Turnout matters

In a campaign focussed on the defence of national interests rather than the importance of being part of the EU, parties are trying to get Czechs to vote, following a paltry 18.2-percent turnout in the last European election in 2014.

The Czechs rank among the most eurosceptic EU members with 24% saying they would vote to leave the EU in this spring’s Eurobarometer poll, the highest share of all member countries except Britain.

“The campaign suggests this is a second-rate vote for us, you don’t really feel there is a campaign,” said Mlejnek.

“Turnout will matter — it may affect the result quite significantly.”

Low turnout may harm the far-right SPD movement of Tokyo-born lawmaker Tomio Okamura, which is promoting a “Czexit” and has 10-percent backing in the Median poll.

“Their anti-EU voters may not want to come to the polls. And one third of the parties running are eurosceptic so they will steal their votes,” said Lebeda.

Polling stations in the country of 10.6 million people will be open from 1200 GMT to 2000 GMT on Friday and from 0600 GMT to 1200 GMT on Saturday.

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