The World Today for October 07, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

Dissonance and Dreadlocks

CZECH REPUBLIC

The dreadlock-sporting leader of the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic, former software engineer Ivan Bartos, was once a frontrunner in his Central European country’s parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 8 and 9.

“Given the Czech electorate’s deep cynicism toward the corrupt and nepotistic political class that emerged after communism collapsed, the unorthodox approach of the church-going accordionist is likely his greatest strength,” wrote Balkan Insight in a portrait.

The Pirates are calling for open government, more oversight over budgets and a crackdown on corruption.

Bartos, however, saw his lead disappear in late September as Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the ruling populist ANO movement labeled the Pirates as “green fanatics” who would allow an unimpeded flood of migrants to enter the country, reported Agence France-Presse.

But that was before this week’s revelations in the Pandora papers, the name of a new bombshell report which highlighted how the world’s richest individuals as well as world leaders have used offshore accounts to hide their wealth and assets, the Guardian reported.

Babis, who won the 2017 election on pledges to curb corruption, failed to disclose a series of shell companies used to buy a $22-million French chateau with a cinema and two swimming pools near Cannes, Politico noted.

“The optics are horrendous,” the Washington Post noted.

“For him, it is a big problem,” Milos Brunclik, a political analyst at the Czech Republic’s Charles University, told the Post. “After all, he repeatedly portrayed himself as a fighter against nontransparent offshore business.”

Babis denied wrongdoing and said the funds were sent from a Czech bank and appropriately taxed at the time. He is also accusing journalists and the opposition of having it out for him. But analysts specializing in money laundering noted how the transactions were complex to the point of obfuscation.

And political analysts also noted how the tycoon might have a better chance of surviving the allegations if he hadn’t already been facing accusations of conflict of interest and EU funds fraud, Politico reported. His government’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the Czechs hard, has also hurt his standing among voters.

As a result, the election outcome is anyone’s guess.

No one party was expected to win a majority of votes before the Pandora problem exploded on the scene, explained Bloomberg. Babis and ANO were expected to receive the most votes, garnering perhaps 27 percent of the total. The leftwing Pirates and a center-right coalition called Spolu were expected to receive, respectively, 24 percent and 17 percent.

If that does happen after the allegations of money laundering taint the election, that’s good for Babis. President Milos Zeman has already announced that he will likely reappoint Babis as prime minister because, if nobody can form a coalition, he will pick whoever leads the party that receives the most votes, noted Al Jazeera in a story that described the development as a “presidential coup.”

Meanwhile, Babis party’s current coalition partner is not expected to win enough votes to pass the 5-percent threshold necessary to win a seat in parliament. That means, ANO might have to partner with the anti-European and anti-NATO Freedom and Direct Democracy party, wrote Reuters. In exchange for its support in a coalition, that party has demanded that the government hold a referendum to leave the European Union in a move known as Czexit.

It’s important to note that such a referendum might be in the political interests of President Zeman, who has become known as a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, supposedly anti-democratic European leader, as Euronews described. It might come as no surprise that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a Russophile who has espoused the benefits of illiberal democracy and centralized rule, has put his support behind Babis.

Still, polls and predictions have been wrong many times. And in light of the “hypocrisy and venality” exhibited by the billionaire prime minister, voters might just go for the outsider with dreadlocks.

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