The ANO party of billionaire Andrej Babiš, a member of the centre-left ruling coalition, is fast gaining strength. According to the results of a March survey of voter preferences conducted by the STEM agency the party would now win general elections in the country, by far outstripping the present coalition leader –the Social Democratic Party. ANO, which got 18.6 percent in October’s early general elections would now get 28.9 percent of the vote, trailed by the Social Democrats which would only get 20.5 percent, a tenth of a percentage point less than they got in the elections. I spoke to the head of the STEM agency Jan Hartl about the reasons behind ANO’s growing popularity.
“There are several factors which can explain this shift –one is that ANO is of a centrist orientation which means – and our survey documents this – that it can attract new supporters both from the left and from the right. On the other hand the Social Democratic Party which came second in the survey is clearly only dependent on the voters it had in last year’s general elections. There is no inflow of new supporters.”
Do you think this is intentional on the part of party leader Andrej Babiš – presenting the party as being neither left nor right, but rather as a group of experts?
“Yes, I think it is intentional and it seems that this strategy is successful. It is also reflected in the fact that Andrej Babiš – the party leader – is by far the most popular politician in the country these days.”
On the other hand, Mr. Babiš is seen as having a conflict of interests and there have been allegations he may have cooperated with the former communist secret police…does none of this matter? What makes him so immensely popular?
“Well, that is a difficulty on the part of Andrej Babiš, on the other hand, people are deeply dissatisfied with the traditional political parties and they perceive ANO and Mr. Babiš as a source of innovation and also a venue how to discontinue the practices of corruption.”
Do you think that the party –largely due to Mr. Babiš – is also better at marketing or promoting its own interests and image?
“Yes, I think so. They constantly and systematically work on their image, whereas if we compare it with the Social Democrats it seems that they have no firm strategy. We have European elections this year and communal elections and it seems that ANO is working systematically on its image.”
“Well, they are target-oriented on the main issues of the society. Babiš wants to economize, to make the functioning of the state more rational –he is able to communicate this to the public and this is clearly paying off. The intention to improve how the state operates is a crucial issue for the Czech public and it seems Mr. Babiš has been successful in promoting this effort.