The Czech Republic just finished its presidential elections, and a victorious former NATO commander Petr Pavel will take office next month. On the surface, Pavel’s victory is not only huge for the Czech people, but also for the sanctity of democracy across the globe. However, this victory has great financial implications as well, as Pavel’s opponent Andrej Babiš was not only a right-wing populist, but a billionaire with major financial power.
Babiš has a net worth of about $4.1 billion according to Forbes, a net worth that makes him one of the richest people in the world, and one of the top ten richest people in the Czech Republic.
He is also a firmly entrenched member in Czech politics, being the former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. His loss is considered by most news outlets to be a signal of support for democracy, even as some other nations, such as Poland and Hungary, move further away from it. However, this victory is far beyond one against right-wing populism.
I am certainly not discounting the victory against populism, especially in an increasing environment of democratic backsliding in Eastern Europe, but it is crucial to recognize how Babiš losing in the Czech Republic is equally an indicator of victory against dangerous financial power. It shows how the raw financial power that billionaires boast can still be defeated and does not rule the day on everything, which is a serious victory for everyone around the world.
This proves to every person that just because someone is wealthy, does not mean that they have complete control and can engage in any activities they want. And even if they do have complete control, people can take that control away, just like the Czech people did with Babiš. The election of Pavel was the Czech people saying yes to democracy and no to raw financial power.
It is important to note that I am also not saying wealth is necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of people with vast amounts of wealth who do wonderful things with their money. Take MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of billionaire Jeff Bezos, who has given away over $14 billion of her money to nonprofits.
However, there are also plenty of individuals who have accumulated so much wealth, possibly even too much wealth, and they have used it in ways that are harmful.
For example, Elon Musk and his purchase of Twitter, which allowed many politicians who incited violence back onto the platform under the guise of supporting free speech. Musk also used his platform to spread false propaganda, and several employees critical of Musk were fired when Twitter went into financial chaos under Musk’s supervision.
And this is the least of how corrupt, inordinately wealthy people oppress others. There seems to be a line of thinking among many of those who have accumulated massive amounts of wealth that they can escape the consequences of their actions, and unfortunately, it almost always ends up hurting the public.
Babiš is a perfect example of this. Right before the Czech elections took place, he was involved in an investigation for fraud due to suspicion that he used European Union funds for one of the companies in his business empire. Even worse, the amount of EU funds he was accused of using only amounted to $2.2 million, or 50 million Czech koruna, which, compared to his net worth, is hardly anything.
It almost appears that he believed he could get away with it due to his own wealth and power. This just further proves how dangerous it would have been if he had been elected over Pavel.
The political world is rapidly changing, and an increasingly large number of right-wing populist, wealthy politicians are gaining or enhancing their power, ensconcing their position in society.
In this new political climate, we look to any and all victories at every political level to keep hope that democracy is still thriving and extensive wealth will not govern the future, even as many countries pivot sharply toward financial corruption and far-right ideology. The Czech people just gave the world one of those victories, and to that, we should all celebrate.