ROZDROJOVICE, Czech Republic — Marie Malenova, a Czech pensioner in a clean, affluent village in South Moravia, has not voted since 1989, the year her country held its first free elections after more than four decades of communist rule.
However, last Friday, she decided to cast her vote again, an event so unusual that her unbelieving family recorded her change of heart, in which she slipped her ballot into a large white box in the village hall. Took pictures of.
She said she did not like the people she voted for, a coalition of previously divided centre-right parties, describing them as “a little evil among all our thieves”. But he had at least one simple and clear message: We can beat Lady Babis, the populist, billionaire prime minister of the Czech Republic.
“I wanted a change,” said Ms. Malenova, “and I wanted something that could beat Babis.”
For the past decade, populists like Mr Babis have often seemed politically invincible, coming to power in Central and Eastern Europe as part of a global trend of strong leaders who despise democratic norms. But on Saturday Mr. Babis, who seemed invincible, lost Because the opposition parties put ideological differences aside and joined together to oust a leader, they fear that they have destroyed the country’s democracy.
Their success can have big ramifications in the field and beyond. In Hungary and Poland, where nationalist leaders have damaged democratic institutions and tried to undermine the European Union, opposition leaders are uniting, trying to build a unified front and oust populist leaders in upcoming elections. .
“Populism is defeatable,” said Otto Ebel, head of the political science department at Masaryk University in the south Moravian capital Brno. “The first step in beating up a populist leader is to stifle individual egos and compromise in the interest of bringing about change.”
The biggest demonstration may be in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promoted himself as Europe’s standard-bearer for “conservative democracy”, while his Fidesz party has championed democratic inquiry, squeezing independent media and the judiciary. continuously taken away. Mr Orban has staked right-wing political positions – including hostility to immigration, the European Union and LGBTQ rights (if the left is proving adept at adopting welfare policies too) – which his allies in Poland, governing law. imitated by. and the Justice Party.
In recent years, champions of liberal democracy have become confused in their attempts to return to power against nationalist leaders who are skilled at instilling fear and presenting themselves as saviors. faced with well-oiled and well-financed political machines, such as Mr. Orban’s Fides Party or Mr. Babis’s Party, AnuSo far, opposition forces have been notoriously divided.
Later this week, six Hungarian parties will complete a one-week opposition primary race, the first of its kind, to narrow down the list of potential contenders in each electoral district to oppose Mr Orbán’s party. The coalition includes groups ranging from nationalist conservatives to leftists, who disagree on most things but share a fervent desire to send Mr.
In Poland, Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and a Former President of the European Council, tried to rally the main opposition party and people who often did not vote, and also tried to garner a plethora of support from other opposition groups.
The appeal for opposition unity is also evident in Russia, where Parliamentary elections held last month were neither free nor fair. Jailed opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny’s allies were trying to persuade voters to rally behind an opposition candidate in each constituency, whether they liked the candidate or not, in the name of winning a seat and disbanding President Vladimir V. Putin’s full grip on power.
It didn’t work – partly because most of the actual opposition candidates were kept off the ballot, but also because Mr. Putin’s government Companies under pressure to remove ‘smart voting’ app Which the opposition was using to coordinate its campaign.
Like Mr. Putin, Europe’s populist leaders claim to defend traditional Christian values against decadent liberals, but unlike Mr. Putin, they have to hold real elections. Until recently, they were helped by the fact that the opposition parties had split votes, meaning that some of those parties had a greater chance of defeating the highly organized governing parties.
Those governing parties have also gained significant control over the media in their countries. In the Czech Republic, Mr. Babis owns a media holding company with newspapers, Internet portals and other news outlets. In Hungary, Mr. Orbán has kept state television and most of the private media under the control of loyal associates or business associates.
Peter Krekow, director of Political Capital, a research group in Budapest, described Hungary as “the most occupied state with the most centralized media environment” in Europe. Yet he said new mobilization by Hungarian opposition parties could change the political dynamics there.
“They have a good message: If you fight against populists, things may be different,” Mr Cracow said.
In Czech elections, this was largely off-topic. While Mr Babis is seen as less extremist than Mr Orban, he has alienated many in the Czech Republic. They see him as a bully whose money and corporate ties give him excessive power.
Marie Zilkova, a successful anti-Babis candidate in South Moravia, one of two coalitions of parties that came together to oppose the prime minister, said Mr Babis and his party were banding together to face the machine. “For us, the only one was there was no way to survive – there was no choice.”
His own party, the Christian Democrats, differed from the more centrist parties in his coalition on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, so, he said, “we agreed that we would not talk about these things during the campaign.”
Facing a united bloc of centre-right opponents, Mr Babis and his Eno party leaned to the right, railing against immigration and the European Union. He invited Mr. Orban to campaign with him.
Ever since he first entered politics nearly a decade ago, there has been a flood of questions about Mr Babis’ financial affairs and the financial affairs of his group Agrofert. A week before the election, documents surfaced as part of the Pandora Papers project international association of investigative journalists It shows how he diverted more than $20 million through offshore shell companies to buy assets in France in 2009.
Experts disagree on whether the disclosure had a significant impact on race, but the revelations clearly shook Mr Babis.
“He was desperate to find the issues that scared people and made them believe that only he could save them,” Ms Zilkova said in an interview in Brno. “Luckily, it didn’t work out.”
Nationally, the opposition coalition won 108 out of 200 seats in parliament, a clear majority.
In Rozdrojovice, where Ms. Malenova cast her first vote since 1989, her coalition benefited from a massive turnout and won 37.3 percent of the vote, compared to her constituents contesting separately four years earlier. There was a huge jump on votes.
Petr Jeroek, who runs a wine business and owns a pub in Rozdrojovice, said his clientele usually did not talk much about politics, but was faced with a choice between Mr Babis and his enemies. , “He sometimes got very excited in his discussion. “
Mr Jerocek was upbeat about the final results late Saturday. “People finally opened their eyes,” he said. “He’s had enough.”
Petr Stransky, a former police officer who now drives the municipal bus, was dismayed. “I don’t like disorder and like to clarify things in society,” he said, adding that what he called the defeat of Mr Babis was unfair gangs by opposition parties.
The village’s mayor, Daniel Strasky, said that when he wanted Mr Babis to go, he did not vote because he objected to an alliance between his party, which represents mayors and other local dignitaries, and pirates, A militant group popular among young voters.
But, he said, the loveless electoral marriage was probably worthwhile because it helped defeat Mr Babis, whose pensioners, young railroad commuters and other budget-busting measures hurt the mayor’s confidence in financial discipline.
Mr. Strasky was also distressed by the prime minister’s anti-immigration atrocities, especially because a family from Vietnam runs the village’s only food store.
“Me and everyone else in the village are very happy that they are here,” the mayor said. “No one else will ever run that shop.”
Benjamin Nowaki Contributed reporting from Budapest, and Petra Korlar from Rozdrojovice.