Is liberal democracy under threat in the Czech Republic?


On June 23, organizers estimate that more than 250,000 protesters in Prague gathered to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš — and for loosening the control of the ANO party and his company, Agrofert, on the country, note analysts Milada Anna Vachudova.  What’s the story behind the largest protest in the Czech Republic since the Velvet Revolution in 1989? Here’s what you need to know, they write for the Post’s Monkey Cage:

Protesters claim that Babiš is subverting the independence of the judiciary by appointing a justice minister unlikely to act against him in a fraud case involving the misuse of European Union subsidies designated for small businesses. Separately, a preliminary investigation revealed last month by the European Commission found Babiš in violation of E.U. conflict of interest rules, citing his continued ties with Agrofert. Reportedly, the Czech Republic may have to repay 2 million euros ($2.3 million) in E.U. subsidies awarded to Agrofert.

He may be a pariah in Prague, but Babis remains popular outside of the capital for his promises to improve people’s lives, analysts Andrea Dudik and Peter Laca write for Bloomberg:

He is pledging more generous benefits for retirees and public employees, which, coupled with a period of economic stability, could help insulate him from dissatisfaction in the second half of his term. His party is the most popular in the country as a whole, with broad support among voters disillusioned with previous Czech governments, whom they saw as corrupt and incompetent. Record-low unemployment and consistent wage growth are also helping keep his approval high.

A civic movement named “One Million Moments for Democracy” organized the protests. But the power of the street isn’t likely to translate easily into power in the parliament, Vachudova Rovny add:

While attracting large numbers of protesters, the nonpartisan nature of this movement could also prove a weakness. For the protesters to usher in a substantively new government, they would need to renew and empower opposition political parties. Today these parties are fragmented and discredited — and choosing not to associate with them makes lasting political change unlikely, no matter how many Czechs take to the streets.

it wouldn’t be the first time that liberal civil society failed to make the transition from protest to politics.

Milada Anna Vachudova is Jean Monnet Chair and an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She studies political competition, European integration and the impact of external actors on domestic political change.

Jan Rovny is an assistant professor of political science at Sciences Po, Paris. He studies party competition, voting and ethnic politics in Europe. @JanRovny

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