Czechs Are Set to Task Their Own Controversial Billionaire With Draining the Swamp

Czechs Are Set to Task Their Own Controversial Billionaire With Draining the Swamp
Czech billionaire politician Andrej Babis, right, takes a photograph with a supporter during a campaign rally, Prague, Czech Republic, Sept. 28, 2017 (AP photo by Petr David Josek).

PRAGUE—Wearied by political scandals and cynical about traditional parties, Czechs are set to elect their own version of Donald Trump as they head to the polls later this month for legislative elections.

Billionaire Andrej Babis pledges to run the Czech Republic like his business and wipe out the corruption that has derailed so many governments since the fall of communism. Voters are buying his simplistic solutions despite a bevy of scandals that stalk Babis, who leads his own populist ANO party, which he founded in 2011. Pending criminal charges against Babis could provoke constitutional chaos after the elections on Oct. 20 and 21. But they may also serve to temper his authoritarian instincts and soften euroskeptic policies that some fear could push the Czech Republic into the European Union’s doghouse alongside Poland and Hungary.

Powered by its founder’s huge personal wealth and contributions from the 250 companies under the umbrella of his Agrofert conglomerate—the Czech Republic’s largest private employer—ANO’s support in the polls has hovered around 30 percent for over a year, ensuring a double-digit lead over its closest rivals ahead of this month’s vote. Babis caught onto the populist zeitgeist when he launched the party, whose name means “Yes” in Czech, as an “anti-establishment” alternative six years ago. He has managed to maintain that image despite ANO’s role in a coalition led by the Social Democratic Party, or CSSD, since early 2014.

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