Dreadlocked Pirate Party chief vying to become Czech PM

Ivan Bartos stands out in a parliament dominated by men in suits
Ivan Bartos stands out in a parliament dominated by men in suits Michal Cizek AFP
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Prague (AFP)

As he completes his sixth pull-up, the dreadlocked man working out in a Prague park on a chilly, foggy morning looks nothing like a classic politician.

But Ivan Bartos, the head of the Czech Pirate Party, is hoping to become the country's new prime minister in elections next month.

"It's a great responsibility," the 41-year-old told AFP.

"But we know what we're doing, we know what we want, and I don't think I should be afraid because we have always been honest and transparent," he said.

Standing out in a parliament dominated by men in suits, Bartos leads a joint candidate list of his liberal centrist party and the centrist Mayors and Independents (STAN) movement.

The grouping swung to a lead in opinion polls earlier this year as the centre-left government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis's populist ANO (YES) movement struggled to contain the Covid pandemic.

It has since slid to the second or third spot as Babis regained the lead with promises of a bright future and a campaign mincing no words about his rivals.

But it could form a governing coalition with a centre-right grouping that has similar ratings in polls.

Babis has labelled the Pirates as "green fanatics" and warned they would flood the country with migrants, counter to his policy of rejecting any migrants wanting to enter the EU member country of 10.7 million.

- 'Vital' to replace PM -

Bartos dismisses the "lying and scaremongering", and his party is suing the prime minister over his statements.

"I don't really mind being the subject of fake news, but some including the prime minister scare voters, they tell people in retirement homes that we will ruin their lives or take their pensions away."

The Pirates and the STAN are running on promises of an open-style government, cautious budgeting and fighting corruption.

Babis's ANO won the last election in 2017 on an anti-corruption ticket, but the food, chemicals and media mogul is now embroiled in an EU subsidy fraud case and a conflict of interest as a politician and entrepreneur.

His party is running on promises of an open-style government, cautious budgeting and fighting corruption
His party is running on promises of an open-style government, cautious budgeting and fighting corruption Michal Cizek AFP

"I think we need a new government," Bartos told AFP at a recent meeting with voters.

"The country is led neither by experts nor by capable politicians, but by the ego of one prime minister, so the replacement is absolutely vital for our future."

A former busker who is an IT specialist by profession, Bartos joined the Pirate Party when it was founded in 2009 and became its chairman in the same year.

"I was always active in the non-profit or alternative sector dealing with culture and music, and I was interested in human rights and freedoms," Bartos said.

"When the Pirate Party emerged, we could see the Arab Spring under way and the Occupy movement. It was a turbulent time and I wrote the Pirate Party founder that I was interested."

- Dreadlock 'conservative' -

The party failed to impress in its first two elections, but it won 10.7-percent support and 22 seats in the 200-member parliament as the third strongest party in 2017.

"I will carry on as long as I can," said Bartos, who played a cameo role in a recent spoof film about the Czech presidential election.

"There is no other option for me than to try to change things at the top level."

The atypical politician who sometimes woos voters with his accordion also works out three times a week -- campaign permitting -- in a sprawling park in Prague with a friend.

Bartos is a former busker who is an IT specialist by profession
Bartos is a former busker who is an IT specialist by profession Michal Cizek AFP

The practice brings out his competitive side, useful for his political persona.

"I can do 15 pull-ups overhand and 20 underhand," Bartos said.

"And sometimes we do challenges, like who can do 100 push-ups faster."

After each exercise, he carefully adjusts his dreadlocks, which he says he will never shave off.

"Why? I'm conservative!" he chuckled.