Prague—Czechs flocked to the polls, and a pro-Russia oligarch is set to become the next Prime Minister.
Billionaire Andrej Babis and his populist ANO party are running under an anti-immigration and anti-EU slate. Voting ended on Saturday, and exit polls see Babis capping first place with close to 30%.
Emperor of his country’s agricultural, chemical, and media industries, Babis is worth an estimated $4 billion. His vast fortune makes him the second wealthiest man in the Czech Republic.
But he’s perhaps the most influential.
He’s a close friend of Czech President Milos Zeman, who has supported Russia’s actions both in Ukraine and Syria and opposed EU sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, his father was a senior Communist party member, and, according to declassified Soviet-era reports, Babis himself served as an agent for the ŠtB, KGB’s local branch that terrorised Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.
Babis previously served as finance minister. The economy’s growth during his time in office was largely attributed to his pro-business policies.
But not all is rosy for the politician with ties to Russia: he’s under investigation by both the Czech police and the EU for fraud.
The Czech Republic became a full NATO member in 1999 and joined the European Union in 2004. It has a long pro-western history. In 1968, for example, the world stood aghast as Czechs opposed Soviet oppression in what became known as the Prague Spring. And in 1989 the Velvet Revolution helped tear down the Iron Curtain.
Howsoever large his share of the pie, Andrej Babis will most probably become the Czech Republic’s next Prime Minister. But in his path to power, he’ll probably have to form a coalition with the Social Democrats of the ČSSD.
Considering the latest events in Austria, where a pro-Russian party will be part of the next government, it appears that it’s getting colder in Europe’s Eastern fringes.
Featured image of Andrej Babis and his wife Monika courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.