Tag Archives: babis

Is Donald Trump the American version of Le Pen?


Over the weekend, Le Figaro pondered whether Donald Trump, the tart-tongued real estate mogul, might be the U.S. version of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French far-right founder of the Front national (National Front) who’s also become notorious for controversial statements and for trampling ‘political correctness.’USflag

Le Pen, after all, edged out the leftist prime minister Lionel Jospin in the 2002 presidential election, establishing the Fifth Republic’s most lopsided runoff between the noxious Le Pen and the incumbent, center-right Jacques Chirac. Le Pen’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, who is working to broader the FN’s appeal, is polling high in the 2017 presidential contest and may win one of the two final runoff spots.

There are significant differences between the Le Pen family and Trump. Le Pen pere frequently expressed his doubts about the Holocaust with a heavy dose of anti-Semitic populism — so far, Trump hasn’t started questioning the Holocaust or attacking Jewish Americans. But both Le Pen and his daughter developed a significant constituency of French voters by expressing outrage against the influx of immigrants into the country, a concern much closer to Trump’s heart (he announced his candidacy by attacking Mexicans, promising to build a wall along the southern US border and billing it to the Mexican government).

More recently, Marine Le Pen has broadened her attacks to include European institutions, including the eurozone, as an attack on the sovereignty of France. In her exclamations of “Oui, la France!” there’s more than an echo of Trump’s “Let’s make American great again” shtick.

But the support that Trump has amassed in the summer of 2015 isn’t so unlike the wave of populism that’s enveloped Europe (on both the right and the left). Though the US economic recovery has chiefly outpaced that of Europe’s, it’s not been an easy expansion. Sustained unemployment, tepid GDP growth and stagnant wages have left working-class and middle-class American voters less secure — just like working-class and middle-class European voters.

It’s no surprise that since 2010, several new voices of the populist right and the populist left have demonstrated their electoral muscle:

  • In Italy, comic and blogger Beppe Grillo obtained nearly a quarter of the vote in the 2013 elections, and polls show that he still commands upwards of 25% of the vote. Frank Bruni wrote in May in The New York Times that Trump shares much in common with Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who dominated Italian politics from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s and, like Trump, reveled in controversial pronouncements. But Berlusconi was primed for politics by Bettino Craxi, the Socialist prime minister in the 1980s who was ultimately forced into exile in Tunisia; it’s not like George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich developed Trump as a protégé.
  • In the United Kingdom, anti-establishment candidates running for the Scottish National Party (SNP) wiped out longstanding Labour and Liberal Democratic strongholds in Scotland and, in the current Labour Party leadership contest, the far-left Jeremy Corbyn, a firm anti-austerian who wants to renationalize British railways, leads many surveys against more moderate opponents.
  • In Greece, the far-left Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left) took power in January’s elections, and the equally far-left Podemos hopes to pull off a similar victory in Spain’s general election in December.

It’s not surprising that economic pain, angst about sovereignty, identity and migration and other doubts about ruling political elites are fueling the same kind of anti-establishment reaction in the United States, too, and it’s the same instinct that powered the ‘tea party’ movement of the early 2010s.

It’s too soon to tell what Trump’s lasting legacy will be on the 2016 presidential race. His poll numbers might soon collapse (or not). He could wipe out before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. He might win a few early contests before Republican elites step in (and they will) to deny him the presidential nomination. He’s still holding the door open to an independent third-party run in the general election.

But the real template for Trump isn’t necessarily Le Pen or Tsipras or Corbyn or Grillo or even Berlusconi, though they all draw support from the same anti-establishment, populist reservoir.

Instead, it’s a duo of neophyte businessmen who have taken on powerful (and experienced) political leaders over the past two years to upend the status quo. Though Andrej Kiska and Andrej Babiš aren’t necessarily household names, even in Europe, they represent more closely the kind of appeal that Trump — at his best, perhaps — could replicate to upend the Republican establishment.

If I were Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, I would be furiously studying each case to extrapolate lessons for Trump.


Kiska (pictured above) is a 52-year old businessman who spent much of his life as a entrepreneur in Slovakia, making his fortune in the installment payments and the credit business. Despite his failures to break into the US market, Kiska shifted to charitable works in 2006, founding Dobrý anjel (Good Angel), a charitable organization that provides funds for the seriously ill.

Running as an independent in the Slovakian presidential election in March 2014, Kiska defeated Slovakia’s sitting center-left prime minister Robert Fico. The Slovak presidency is effectively ceremonial, but Fico’s victory would have consolidated power between the ruling party and the presidency. Fico’s defeat dealt an otherwise popular figure a significant blow — and Kiska’s victory preserved a sense of constitutional balance between the executive and the parliamentary.

Going into the election, Fico was a well-liked prime minister and Slovakia’s economic record outpaced its closest neighbors; Kiska was a political newcomer. Fico’s party, Smer–sociálna demokracia, (Smer-SD, Direction-Social Democracy), still widely leads polls for next year’s general election, for example.

Unlike Trump, Kiska didn’t campaign on the macho, alpha-male persona of a successful businessman. But Kiska succeeded by planting doubts about Fico’s campaign and the fact that Kiska was personally untainted by political corruption and ties to Soviet-era politics. By all counts, he’s thrived in the presidential role since taking office last year. The lesson to Trump is that he can dial down the antics and still present a capable challenge to the GOP establishment. Though Trump may embellish the influence that his past donations might have procured, there’s no doubt he is right when he showcases the corrosive influence of money on politics in the post-Citizens United world.


Babiš (pictured above) is also a Slovak-born businessman, but the 60-year old made his fortune in the Czech Republic. Like Kiska, he left business to form a political party, Akce nespokojených občanů (ANO, Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) in 2011.

In the 2013 Czech elections, ANO won nearly 20% of the vote, finishing a strong second to the Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party) in a highly fragmented result. Babiš, who developed Agrofert, an agricultural and food processing company, into one of the most successful companies in the country, later purchased a series of media companies before he turned to politics as one of the wealthiest men in the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, Babiš argued that he would govern the Czech Republic like a business.

More caustic than Kiska, and more sympathetic to neoliberal policies, Babiš attacked both Czech social democrats and conservatives as corrupt and dishonest, arguing for an end to immunity for political figures. In 2012 and 2013, despite his inexperience, he expertly filled a void for an electorate that had lost trust in the central European country’s ruling elite. In that regard, Trump’s rhetoric much more strongly resembles that of the pugilistic Babiš.

In the past four years alone, a center-right prime minister resigned after his chief of staff (with whom he had become romantically involved) was caught spying on the former prime minister’s wife. It’s also a country where a former Social Democratic prime minister won the presidency in early 2013 and immediately tried to outmuscle the Czech parliament in a constitutional power struggle. That gave Babiš the opportunity to present himself as the truth-telling man of action, despite fears that ‘Babišconi’ would become just another oligarchic leader and despite troubling accusations that he cooperated with the Czech internal police during the Soviet era as well as with the Soviet KGB.

Nevertheless, after the 2013 election, Babiš  set aside his differences with elites and brought ANO into the current government — he now serves as the country’s finance minister. Though the next Czech elections do not have to be held until 2017, ANO leads polls and there’s a good chance that Babiš could become the next prime minister.

The lesson here from Trump is that the righteous ‘pox-on-both-your houses’ anger of the outsider can be effective so long as it’s targeted on the tangible excesses and failures of the ruling class. But it’s not enough, as Trump has done, just to call yourself ‘smart’ and politicians ‘stupid.’ What made Babiš successful was presenting the devastating case for why Czech politics had become so broken.


How Miro Cerar rose to the top of Slovenian politics in four weeks


Slovenians on Sunday turned over their country’s government to Miro Cerar, a political neophyte that barely anyone outside (or even inside) Slovenia had ever heard of a year ago.slovenia

Cerar (pictured above), an attorney and law professor, and the son of an Olympic gymnast, formed the Stranka Mira Cerarja (SMC, Miro Cerar’s Party), barely a month ago. But that didn’t matter to Slovenians, and the SMC easily won the July 13 snap elections by a margin of 34.6% to 20.7% against the center-right center-right Slovenska demokratska stranka (SDS, Slovenian Democratic Party), whose leader, two-time prime minister Janez Janša, has been sentenced to two years in prison in relation to corruption charges. Cerar’s victory represents the strongest victory of any party in a Slovenian election since the return of Slovenian sovereignty in 1990.

slovenia14 slovenia assembly 14

Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections follow the resignation two months ago of Alenka Bratušek, Slovenia’s first female prime minister, after just over a year in office. Bratušek’s center-left coalition government is the second government since Slovenia’s last elections in December 2011.

* * * * *

RELATED: Bratušek, Slovenia’s first female prime minister, resigns

* * * * *

Cerar will now likely command 36 seats in the 90-member, unicameral Državni zbor (National Assembly), forcing him to form a coalition government with any of a number of allies in a National Assembly that remains fragmented, despite the strength of Cerar’s  mandate.

Cerar’s success is in large part due to his novelty. He’s not tainted by the past six years of austerity or the past two decades of corruption that characterizes much of Slovenia’s political elite. He lies somewhat in the center or center-left of Slovenian politics, leaning right on the need for economic reform, but leaning left on the need for reconsidering some austerity-era policies that Cerar believes have harmed Slovenian growth. For example, he’s called into question several recent plans for privatizations, including the national telecommunications company and the corporation that run’s the national airport. Continue reading How Miro Cerar rose to the top of Slovenian politics in four weeks

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

 Across Europe on Monday, officials, voters and everyone else were trying to sort through the consequences of yesterday’s voting, across all 28 member-states, to elect the 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

Late Sunday, I began analyzing the results on a state-by-state basis — you can read my take here on what the European election results mean in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

This post picks up where that left off, however, with a look at some of the results in Europe’s mid-sized member-states.

* * * * *

RELATED: A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

* * * * *

With the count now almost complete, here’s where the Europe-wide parties stand:


The European People’s Party (EPP), which has been the largest group in the European Parliament since 1999, will continue to be the largest group, but with fewer seats (215) than after any election since 1994.

The second-largest group, the Party of European Socialists (PES) has 188 seats, a slight gain, but not the breakout performance for which it was hoping.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) will remain the third-largest group, notwithstanding the collapse of two of its constituent parties, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom and the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) in Germany.

The European Greens have won 53 seats, just two less than before the elections. The Party of the European Left, which had hoped to make strong gains on the strength of its anti-austerity message, gained nine seats to 44.

The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a slightly eurosceptic group of conservative parties, including the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, holds steady at 46 seats — that’s a slight loss of around eight seats. The Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD) gained six.

The real increase was among the ‘non-inscrits,’ the unaffiliated MEPs, which will rise from around 30 to 104. The bulk of those MEPs include the newly elected eurosceptics that have made such a big splash in the past 24 hours, including Marine Le Pen’s Front national (FN, National Front) in France.

But, in addition to being a pan-European contest with wide-ranging themes that resonate throughout the European Union, the elections are also 28 national contests, and they’ve already claimed resignations of two center-left leaders — Eamon Gilmore, of Ireland’s Labour Party, and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).

Here’s a look at how the European elections are affecting nine more mid-sized counties across the European Union: Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

Kiska elected president of Slovakia in setback for Fico


Robert Fico’s attempt to extend his control over both the Slovakian parliament and presidency failed Saturday, when former businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska (pictured above) overwhelmingly defeated Fico in the second-round runoff.slovakia flag

Though Fico narrowly led in the first round, Kiska won a decisive victory with 59.38% of the vote. Fico, the incumbent prime minister, won just 40.61%. Kiska, an electrical engineer by training, made his fortune in the installment payments / credit business. Eight years ago, he founded Dobrý anjel (Good Angel), a charitable organization that helps provide funds for the seriously ill.

Kiska’s victory parallels the rise of Andrej Babiš, also a former businessman, who became the deputy prime minister and finance minister of the Czech Republic after his new center-right party nearly won last October’s Czech parliamentary elections. Babiš, interestingly enough, is Slovak by birth. Though Kiska will have a relatively circumscribed role in Slovak politics, due to the largely ceremonial nature of the Slovak presidency, the emergence of figures like Kiska and Babiš could augur the rise of a new, pragmatic center-right in central Europe whose leaders come from the business world and not from the fraught economics and tainted politics (on both the right and the left of the immediate post-Cold War period).

Fico, the leader of Slovakia’s main center-left party, Smer – sociálna demokracia (Direction — Social Democracy), has led the country’s government for six of the past eight years. His defeat on Saturday will undoubtedly weaken his position as prime minister, given that his critics can argue the election was a referendum on Fico’s record. Smer won’t face voters again until 2016, but it was Fico’s choice to contest the presidential election, making his defeat on Sunday almost entirely self-inflicted.  Continue reading Kiska elected president of Slovakia in setback for Fico

Sobotka turns to forming government after troubling internal ČSSD revolt


Normally, party leaders face the boot when they lose elections, not after they win them.czech

But that’s what happened in the Czech Republic, when the center-left Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party) narrowly topped the country’s parliamentary elections in late October with just over 20% of the vote.

Though the Social Democrats won the election, they took just 50 out of 200 seats in the Poslanecká sněmovna (the Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Czech parliament, and only nearly edged out a new populist, anti-corruption, business-friendly party, the Akce nespokojených občanů (ANO, Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), founded just two years ago by wealth businessman Andrej Babiš.

That left the leader of the Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, in a difficult position.  The fractured result means that the Social Democrats will have to find at least another 50 deputies in order to govern — and despite the willingness of the Social Democrats to work alongside the Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy (KSČM, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia) for the first time in the post-Soviet era, the 33 seats that the Communists won won’t alone be enough to float a Social Democrat-led government.

But what left his leadership truly in question was a split between two wings of his party, a pro-Sobotka wing that hopes to keep its distance from the Czech Republic’s new president, Miloš Zeman, and a pro-Zeman wing that seeks closer collaboration between the two.  Zeman led the Social Democrats over a decade ago, and he served as Czech prime minister from 1998 to 2002.  A falling-out with the ČSSD leadership in the mid-2000s, however, caused Zeman to quit the Social Democrats and form a new party.

Zeman triumphed in his own right in the January 2013 presidential election — the first such direct election in Czech politics — and has spent the greater part of the year trying to muscle even more power for the Czech presidency at the expense of the parliamentary government.

So almost immediately following the election, Zeman (pictured above, left, with Sobotka) and top members of the pro-Zeman wing of the Social Democrats, including the party’s deputy leader Michal Hašek, held a secret meeting.  That preceded a call for Sobotka to step down as leader on the basis that Sobotka’s personalized, centralized campaign led to a poorer-than-expected result.

The ‘coup’ soon fell apart, though — Hašek and other participants in the secret meeting with Zeman lied about it, Sobotka rallied his supporters  against Zeman’s interference in internal party affairs, Czech overwhelming blamed Hašek for causing political instability and so, for now, Sobotka remains leader and Hašek has stepped down as deputy chair.

Sobotka won a battle, but it’s far from clear that he’ll even be the next prime minister.  Continue reading Sobotka turns to forming government after troubling internal ČSSD revolt

Czech election results: a fractured and uncertain Chamber of Deputies


In September, voters in some of Europe’s most economically stable countries (Germany, Austria and even Norway) happily turned out to support their incumbent governments.  But in October, the Czech Republic’s election demonstrates that most of Europe remains under incredible social, economic and political stress.czech

Czech voters selected members to the lower house of the Czech parliament between two days of voting on Friday and today.  The result is a fragmented mess — it’s the most fractured election result since the May 2012 Greek parliamentary election, which resulted in a hung parliament and necessitated a second set of elections in Greece just a month later.

Here are the results:

czech 2013

Seven different parties — ranging from free-market liberals to communists to political neophytes — won enough votes to gain seats in the 200-member Poslanecká sněmovna (the Chamber of Deputies), but it’s not clear who will be able to form a government.  Voters clearly rejected the previous center-right government’s approach to austerity and budget discipline, but split over what they want to replace it.  Turnout fell below 60% for the first time in over a decade.

In purely political terms, the result gives even more power to Czech president Miloš Zeman (pictured above), who came to office after winning the country’s first direct presidential election in January.  On the list of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in this weekend’s election, perhaps no one is a greater winner than Zeman, who is entitled to appoint the prime minister and therefore, will shape the first steps in the coalition negotiations.

Since taking office, Zeman has pushed to empower the Czech presidency at the expense of the Czech parliament.  After the country’s center-right government fell earlier this summer, Zeman appointed Jiří Rusnok as his hand-picked technocratic prime minister, but Rusnok’s (and Zeman’s) inability to win a vote of confidence led to this weekend’s snap elections.  Rusnok has served as a caretaker prime minister for the past three months, and he could wind up serving quite a while longer if no governing coalition can be formed.

The center-left Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party) technically won the election — but just barely, and with far less support than polls showed just a month ago.  Despite winning more votes than any other party, the Social Democrats won just one out of every five votes, and it’s the party’s worst result in two decades.  It’s not necessarily clear that the party’s leader, former finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka, will even have the chance to form a government.  There’s simply no credible case that the Social Democrats have a mandate for much of anything.

Though Zeman, a Social Democratic prime minister between 1998 and 2002, broke away from the Social Democrats only in 2007, the party remains divided over the extent to which it wants to associate with Zeman now that he holds the Czech presidency.  What’s certain is that the poor result will weaken Sobotka, who leads the anti-Zeman wing of the party.  That means Zeman could bypass Sobotka and appoint a friendlier Social Democrat as prime minister, such as deputy leader Michal Hašek or perhaps Jan Mládek, who was widely tipped to become the next finance minister.

The real winner in today’s election is the Akce nespokojených občanů (ANO, Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), founded in 2011 by millionaire Andrej Babiš, which nearly overtook the Social Democrats in terms of support — they will hold just three fewer seats than the Social Democrats in the new Chamber of Deputies.  Babiš is one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Czech Republic, and he’s led a ‘pox-on-all-your-houses’ campaign that rejects the mainstream Czech political elite as corrupt and dishonest.  Babiš owns founded Agrofert, originally a food processing and agricultural company, but now a conglomerate that’s the fourth-largest business in the Czech Republic.  Though his platform is relatively nebulous, he’s called for reforms to reduce corruption and end immunity for politicians from prosecution.

Think of Babiš as a cross between former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, perhaps, and think of ANO as a more business-friendly version of Beppe Grillo’s Italian protest group, the Five Star Movement.  Given Babiš’s recent effort to buy a top Czech media company, the comparisons to Berlusconi have become particularly sharp:

A Czech tabloid recently nicknamed Andrej Babis, the new star on the Czech political scene, “Babisconi.” But, when compared with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, he quips: “I have no interest whatsoever in underaged girls.”

In third place is the Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy (KSČM, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia), which won about 15% of the vote, the party’s second-best result since the fall of the Soviet Union.  The party is the heir to the old Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which governed the country from 1968 until 1990 as a Soviet-aligned, one-party state.  Though the Communists have moderated their approach somewhat in the 21st century, and though they were expected to participate in a Social Democratic-led government, the party remains unapologetically communist (unlike other former eastern far-left parties, such as Die Linke in Germany, which espouse a more moderate form of democratic socialism).  Given that the base of the Czech Communists was once older, rural voters, its comeback today says much about the economic despair in the Czech Republic these days.    Continue reading Czech election results: a fractured and uncertain Chamber of Deputies

New Czech party hopes to ride anti-corruption momentum to election gains

Wallenstein view

It’s been a tumultuous year in Czech politics — a surveillance scandal involving the prime minister’s love triangle brought down the government, a power-hungry president elected in the first direct presidential election earlier this year is working to claw power away from the parliament, and what’s left of the Czech right boils down to a contest between an eccentric Bohemian aristocrat and a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. czech

Though it sounds like the long-lost plot of a Leoš Janáček opera, it’s the backdrop to this weekend’s parliamentary elections, which should be no less dramatic than the events that shaped them.

What was once expected to be an easy victory for the country’s main center-left party, the Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD, Czech Social Democratic Party) now looks it will be a less dominant victory — so much that the Social Democrats are no longer considered a lock to lead the next Czech government.  It’s the latest twist in a series of turns that could have major consequences for the economic and political development of the Czech Republic (or ‘Czechia‘ as its current president wants to call it) and its 10.5 million residents, to say nothing of the future expansion of the eurozone within central and eastern Europe. Continue reading New Czech party hopes to ride anti-corruption momentum to election gains