REFORMY (215) Party for Sale? (in the CR) VII.

1. září 2015 | 07.00 |

Party for Sale? Political Marketing in the Czech Republic in the context of Election to the Chamber of Deputies in 2013 - Part VII

Aleš Drahokoupil

One of the best Diploma´s Thesis defended this academic year belongs to Aleš Drahokoupil. The Thesis was elaborated within the project Specific Research at University of Finance and Administration. It describes very well the social context of "pro-communication” reforms in terms of political marketing tools. Due to the fact, that the work is written in English, it is also available to international readers. I publish several sequels of selected passages within series of reforms.

Jedna z nejlepších diplomových prací obhájená v letošním roce patří Aleši Drahokoupilovi. Byla zpracována v rámci projektu SVV na VŠFS. Velmi dobře popisuje společenský kontext "prokomunikování" reforem z hlediska nástrojů politického marketingu. Vzhledem k tomu, že je v angličtině, je dostupná i zahraničním čtenářům. Uveřejňuji na několik pokračování vybrané pasáže v rámci seriálu o reformách.

ANO 2011 (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens 2011, or Yes in Czech)

ANO's campaign was most visible and it was also most discussed in relation to political marketing. ANO was originally founded as a civic initiative in November 2011 by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire of Slovak origin and owner of chemical and food-processing holding company Agrofert. In the initiative's founding declaration, Babiš accused the current political establishment, including then-president Václav Klaus, of corruption and looting the state of its property. ANO declared as its goal: "a more just society, and a functioning state of laws” (ANO 2011).

Initially characterized by a vague rhetoric of anti-corruption and political reform, the movement evolved into an organized, well-funded group with a slate of candidates recruited from business and public administration and a clear program, partly borrowed from NGOs, on creating a cleaner, more effective ‘reconstructed state' capable of delivering better and cheaper public goods. Babiš presented himself as a hard-working, non-political businessman who has finally had enough of corruption and would turn the country around by running it like a successful enterprise.

ANO made calibrated appeals also on other issues, targeting disillusioned right-wing voters while putting forward some policies aimed at voters on the left, such as cuts in VAT on basic consumer items and the scrapping of ‘hotel' charges in hospitals and compulsory property declarations for politicians and officials. Election-day polling, however, suggests that ANO's voters, who were distributed relatively across regions, income and age grounds, were more motivated by a desire for change than support for any of the movement's specific commitments. Voters also seem to have been unfazed by evidence that Babiš collaborated with the communist-era secret police during 1980s when working as executive for state petrochemicals trading company – a claim he denies (Hanley, 2013).

Party's Organizational structure

Prior to election ANO had extremely weak membership base (less than thousand). Moreover, the admission regulations in the party's statutes are comprehensive and have the potential for a restrictive application. For instance, applicants have to submit a CV, are possibly invited for a personal interview and have to provide a statement that they are debt-free (ANO, 2013). The integration of non-party members from outside the organizational structure of the party is not intended. The substantial authority over decisions lies in the hands of the executive committee or the president. The relation to the regional and local organizational entities is clearly specified and hierarchically organized. Their primary function is the selection of candidates for the respective committees. A bottom-up agenda setting is not explicitly intended in the formal regulations. However, it is mentioned that members can participate in the discussion process on the local and regional level (ANO, 2013). The ten-member executive committee headed by Andrej Babiš currently consists of nine men and one woman (ANO, 2015). It is noticeable that, besides the political functions, the party also fills management positions. These managers report directly to the president. Moreover, the president can invite guests to certain committees. Aside from these formal institutionalized structures, there is a focus on the recruitment of sympathizers by Andrej Babiš personally. After the 2013 elections and the high election campaign expenses, for instance, Babiš pointed out: "We have to save money and we need to find more sympathizers for our party” (Radio Praha 2014). Given the low numbers of registered party members, the party does not pursue strategy of long-term growth in membership.

Andrej Babiš is known for having tight control over its party and this was the case also during the campaign. He was ‘de facto' election manager and micro-managed the whole campaign (Braun, 2013).

ANO's program

The party program stresses the necessity to create efficient state and to fight corruption. However, the program contains hardly any concrete ideas for the implementation of these policies. In overall, the program demands the repression of old politics, which are related to corrupt old caste of politicians. With reference to the reforms of the democratic system, ANO wants to abolish the immunity of politicians. Besides general criticism of the political elite, the program does not present other ideas for reforms. The remarks concerning the welfare state underline especially the necessity for the commitment of individuals. Particular support should be granted to families, retirees and people with disabilities. The program of ANO broaches relevant injustices within the political system, however, there are no concrete recommendations concerning measures for overcoming these problems. Taken as a whole, ANO represents programmatically an economic-liberal position without liberal core values being thermalized. Meanwhile ANO is a member of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European parliament.

Financial resources

The resources which ANO spent during the electoral campaign mainly came from Andrej Babiš's private means and corporate and private donations which were published on party's website. During the three months preceding the election, ANO spent 1.7 million Euros for research, analyses, consultancy and marketing. In addition 1.2 million Euros were spent for billboards, about 3 million Euros for advertising and 1.5 million Euros for administration (ANO, 2013). Thus, according to this official data ANO spent 4.4 million Euros for the 2013 elections. This amount is considerably higher than the electoral expenses of other Czech parties which spent between 1.4 and 2.5 million Euros. Complying with the stereotypical image of the reputable entrepreneur, by now Babiš demands austerity (Radio Praha, 27 March 2014).

Candidates and the Members of Parliament (MP)

Most ANO's MPs came from outside of politics. Some were active in other parties earlier and involved in lower level politics. Věra Jourová, the current vicepresident of ANO and minister, and Jaroslav Faltýnek were both active in ČSSD before they joined ANO. Ladislav Okleštěk was a mayor since 1994 and David Kasal was a municipal councilor of Věci veřejné (VV). Some of the the MPs held important positions in Babiš's companies. For instance, Jaroslav Faltýnek and Richard Brabec were members of the supervisory board of Agrofert. Well-known actor and diplomat Martin Stropnicky, currently the Minister of Defense, and the journalist Martin Komarek also belong to ANO's fraction. Only 10 of the 47 delegates were women (The chamber of deputies, 2015).

Campaign strategy  

Alexander Braun from company PSB worked as ANO's on-the-ground Chief Strategist and Pollster. For his role in the campaign Braun was awarded the International Campaign Consultant of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants. According to Berlan (2014) Braun played key role in ANO‘s success. He led the development and promotion of ANO's political identity ‘en route' to the party's historical success. His role blended the jobs of top advisor, campaign manager and pollster. Braun created and implemented campaign strategy, developed messaging and voter targeting programs, structured operations and generally oversaw all aspects of the campaign (Berland, 2014). According to many experts, company PSB played important role in ANO's success. An election night interview on national Czech television sums PSB's role up well. When Karel Schwarzenberg, the Head of TOP 09, a major Czech political party, was asked to comment on ANO's election performance, the politician singled out PSB's contribution, saying "I congratulate the American company hired by ANO for the perfectly and professionally executed campaign” (PBS, 2013).

Another key personnel in ANO's campaign was Petr Topinka who was in charge of external communication. Marek Prchal was in charge of on-line communication, especially social networks. Anna Matušková was helping with strategy and media trainings. The election team included also two people who closely observed behavior of party's competitors. 

ANO ordered several opinion polls from external agencies. Main opinion poll, which was run in June 2013, helped to define target voter segment and main message. This opinion poll served as base for creating campaign plan, which had to be modified due to the early elections. Despite good knowledge of target segments, ANO's marketing communication was very homogenous.    

Main goal was to establish and raise awareness of ANO's brand. The party was very careful to make sure that the brand is not clearly distinguished by voters as neither right nor left wing. Instead, they were focusing primarily on carefully selected and tested topics. The movement based its image on its leader, successful businessman, Andrej Babiš and his idea to run state as a company. At the beginning, marketing was focused solely on promoting Andrej Babiš. However they soon realized danger of this "one man show” strategy and used picture of Babiš together with other candidates to demonstrate that ANO is not a party of one.

ANO used extensively opinion polls, tested visualizations and focus groups. The problem was that target segments were very fragmented. When considering age and socio-economic situation, the movement appealed to broad spectrum of voters. One of targeted segments included younger educated inhabitants of provincial towns. Broader segment included people unsatisfied with politics in general. These people responded well to party's protest rhetoric, promise of change and offer of non-political politics. ANO wanted to differentiate itself from politicians as a group of successful businessmen/managers, hence the slogan "We are not politicians, we work hard.” Other popular topics included plans to limit criminal immunity of Members of Parliament and to join efforts of "Reconstruction of state” movement.

Andrej Babiš, as leader and ‘de facto' owner of ANO, had main say and veto right during the campaign. ANO is often criticized for the lack of internal democracy, but it is important to note that no other Czech party is run purely democratically and KSČM is the only Czech party which has internal party democracy explicitely mentioned in its rules (Ondřejková, 2010, p 148). The lack of internal party democracy helped ANO to be faster and more flexible when reacting to voters' needs. According to Back (2008, 54-65), democratic processes can cause party's fragmentation and therefore it is less likely for such party to participate on government. Fractioned party has negative influence on party's negotiation ability, it presumes ambiguity in goals, prolongs negotiations and makes it unpredictable to coalition partners. That is reason, for example, why ANO and some other parties give top management more flexibility to pick up candidates.     

(to be continued)

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