Czech tycoon Babiš to be named prime minister but may struggle to find partners

Andrej Babiš, billionaire and leader of the ANO movement, speaks next to his wife Monika after the exit polls of Czech parliamentary elections were published in Prague, Czech Republic, 21 October 2017. [Filip Singer/EPA/EFE]

Czech President Miloš Zeman said on Sunday (22 October) he would name Andrej Babiš prime minister, but the tycoon leader of the anti-establishment ANO party may struggle to find coalition partners despite his emphatic election win.

ANO won 29.6% of the vote at the weekend’s polls, nearly three times as much as its closest rival, but many parties expressed reluctance or rejected outright any coalition with it while Babiš fights off fraud charges.

Zeman said the charges were not an obstacle for Babiš – the second richest Czech who has been compared to other tycoons-turned-political leaders Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi – to become prime minister.

“My aim is that when I appoint the prime minister, and that will be Andrej Babiš, that there is certainty or at least high probability that this prime minister will be successful in a parliamentary vote of confidence,” Zeman said in a live interview on news website blesk.cz.

ANO will control 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house so still needs partners from the other eight factions to form a majority, but Babiš’s stance as an anti-establishment force has made it difficult to forge alliances.

Opponents see Babiš, worth an estimated $4bn, as a danger to democracy because of his commanding leadership style and business and media power that they fear could pose conflicts of interest.

Police allege Babiš hid ownership of one of his firms a decade ago to receive a €2m EU subsidy that was meant for small businesses. He denies wrongdoing.

Czech police charge leading candidate with EU funding fraud

Andrej Babiš, the Czech billionaire who is a leading candidate to become prime minister in elections next week, said yesterday (9 October) that he had been charged with fraud over EU subsidies received by one of his companies.

He moved his chemicals, food and media firms to a trust earlier this year when he held the job of finance minister, to meet conflict of interest legislation.

The centre-right Civic Democrats, who came second in the election with 25 seats, said they would remain in opposition.

“I have already ruled out talks with ANO on taking part in a government or supporting a government,” party chief Petr Fiala said on the Seznam.cz news website.

Two small centre-right parties, STAN and TOP09, also said they would not work with Babiš.

“I can’t legitimise him and create the appearance of normality,” said Jan Farsky, election leader for STAN.

“Democratic forces got trounced but they will not regain strength by cooperation with Babiš. That would finish them off,” he told Reuters.

The centre-left Social Democrats of outgoing Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who won just 7.3% of the vote, said they may enter talks with ANO, their current coalition partner, but only if Babiš personally stays out of the cabinet.

The centrist Christian Democrats, the third current coalition partner, also made any potential support conditional on Babiš not being in the government. The liberal Pirate Party, which came third in the election, also said Babiš’s charges were an obstacle to any cooperation.

Babiš has promised to stay out of the eurozone and pressure the European Union to counter immigration, but also to keep the country firmly in the EU and NATO. He also said talk about multi-speed Europe should stop.

But a refusal by mainstream parties to work with ANO could lead Babiš to turn to the Communists and the anti-EU, anti-immigration Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) for political support.

SPD chief Tomio Okamura said Babiš should stay out of the cabinet if he were to consider support. His conditions for talks would be a tough stance against immigration, a ban on promoting Islam and a referendum on leaving the European Union, he said.

The make-up of the cabinet will influence the country’s tone in the EU, but unlike Poland’s leader Jarosław Kaczyński or Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Babiš does not share the anti-liberal stance that has driven Warsaw and Budapest into deep spats with western partners.

Warsaw keeps an eye on neighbouring Czech elections

Czechs will elect their new parliament on Friday and Saturday (20-21 October), with former deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, an anti-migrant Eurosceptic and one of the wealthiest men in the country, set to win the most votes, according to the latest opinion polls.

President Zeman said he would meet Babiš on Monday to discuss the next steps but suggested the formal appointment would happen later.

He said he would call the first session of the new parliament after the maximum 30 days allowed by the constitution, to provide time for coalition talks.

Hans van Baalen, The liberal ALDE party President, and Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament, congratulated their sister party ANO for winning the elections.

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, is a politician from the ANO party.

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