‘Anti-System’ Centrists Win Czech Hearts and Minds
Mainstream pro-EU parties on the centre-left and centre-right took a battering in Czech elections for the European Parliament but the main beneficiaries were "anti-system" centrist parties rather than the far right.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis' ruling ANO party came top, gaining two seats for a total of six of the country's 21 seats and 21.18% of the vote.
That was less than expected for the party, which sits in the European Parliament's buoyant Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) political group.
The result follows reports that the populist billionaire spent more than twice as much as the nearest party — on top of publicity gained from his big media empire.
"For Andrej Babis, the result will be disappointing," political scientist Daniel Kunstat of the Cevro Institute told Czech news wire CTK. "The movement failed to mobilize its voters with its massive campaign."
Analysts say the election became to a large extent a referendum on Babis himself.
Babis blamed what he called an "intensive and vulgar" campaign against him, a reference to ongoing demonstrations against what is seen as his interference in the judiciary, which protesters fear could block a police investigation into fraud charges against the premier.
European issues played little part in the campaign, though Babis used eurosceptic rhetoric, making vague demands to bring back more powers from Brussels.
He also appeared in a campaign video filling a shopping trolley, during which he attacked the allegedly second-class quality of food sold by Western supermarket chains in Central Europe.
"The elites are convinced there is nothing they can gain from the EP elections and consequently the campaign is incredibly superficial and shallow," one...