The mainstream press in Britain hailed the Czech elections last weekend as another defeat for right wing populism.
In reality, the eastern European country saw a sharp shift to the right—with not a single left wing party winning parliamentary seats.
The Tory coalition Spolu (Together) won a narrow victory with 27.8 percent of the vote. The right wing populist ANO coalition—headed by prime minister, billionaire Andrej Babis—came second with 27.1 percent.
The centrist Pirate/Mayors group, which could now form a government with the Tories, came third with an increased number of seats.
And the far right Freedom and Direct Democracy party came fourth.
Babis' popularity took a hit in the run-up to the vote. His name appeared in the Pandora Papers and a previous corruption scandal, Stork’s Nest, resurfaced in the press. But while he’s down, he’s certainly not out.
Babis came from a family of Stalinist bureaucrats and used his connections to build up a corporate empire after the fall of the dictatorship in 1989.
In 2011, Babis set up ANO on an “anti-corruption” ticket and joined a coalition government two years later. As finance minister, he pushed through policies that benefited big businesses, such as his Agrofert conglomerate.
It swallowed up two of the biggest Czech newspapers, a TV channel and the country’s most popular radio station.
Babis used the refugee crisis to strengthen his credentials as an “outsider” taking on European Union (EU) elites while trousering its subsidies. He demanded the Nato military alliance destroy refugee boats trying to make it across the Mediterranean.
In 2017, Babis formed a minority government, propped up by the Labour-type Social Democrats and the Communist Party.
The Social Democrats were a junior coalition partner while Communist Party MPs supported Babis in important parliamentary votes.
Voters punished both parties in last weekend’s election for propping up Babis. They failed to pass the 5 percent threshold, required to win seats in the Czech parliament, for the first time in 30 years.
Their Social Democratic and Communist leaders pointed to the fact that they’d forced Babis to accept an increase in the minimum wage and bonuses for pensioners. In reality, the left participation in his government demoralised their base, cut it off from opposition on the streets and strengthened the right.
And what’s more, Babis used his media empire to take all the credit for the increased social security measures.
This is a terrible result. It means that the next right wing coalition will be able to pass any cuts it wants.
Some on the left have illusions in the Pirate Party, which talked of taking on corporate power.
But its leaders declared that the left-right division is obsolete and that their policy is “fact based”. Before the election campaign, they created a coalition with the Mayors party, originally an ally of the neoliberal party TOP09.
This shifted the Pirates further to the right.
And their pitiful aim of avoiding any controversy led them to apologise for anything that would be seen as a little bit left wing.
The final blow came on election day itself where the Czech preference-based voting system meant the Pirates only won four out of the Pirates/Mayors’ 37 seats.
The one year old Left party, a merger of small left forces, won a few hundred votes.
Revolutionary socialists who are part of the Left party will push for a united struggle against the cuts that are coming.
Only on this basis, can we rebuild the left.