Thousands protest against Czech PM Babiš as government talks stall

Thousands of demonstrators gather in Wenceslas Square to protest against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, in Prague, Czech Republic, 9 April 2018. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

Thousands of Czechs rallied on Monday (9 April) to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, battling police charges and without parliamentary backing for his government.

Nearly six months after an election that Babiš’s ANO party won by a large margin, the billionaire businessman is still seeking partners to govern and heads a caretaker minority cabinet after losing a confidence vote in January.

Andrej Babiš: Who is the new Czech prime minister?

Czech President Miloš Zeman instructed Andrej Babiš to form a new government. With 99% of the votes counted, his party ANO, collected 29.76% of popular support.

Coalition talks with the Social Democrats broke down last week in a spat over the allocation of ministries and Babiš has not said what he will do next before meeting President Miloš Zeman on Tuesday.

Most other parties have shunned Babiš due to an alleged fraud of European Union subsidies worth €2 million a decade ago. He denies wrongdoing.

Czech PM Babiš battles fraud charges as cabinet loses confidence vote

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s minority government lost a confidence vote yesterday (16 January), forcing him to try to cut a deal with opposition parties to stay in office while he also battles allegations of subsidy fraud.

Several thousand protested on Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Monday, according to news agency CTK’s estimates, while more than 2,000 rallied in Brno, the country’s second largest city. Police did not provide official estimates. Protests took place in other cities and towns.

Protest organisers say someone facing criminal charges should not lead the government.

Besides the subsidy case, Slovak-born Babiš has also fought to be cleared of a charge of cooperating with the communist-era secret police, a demand rejected by a court in Slovakia earlier this year.

Thousands protested in March against a Communist lawmaker being named head of a police oversight commission despite his past in a communist-era special unit. ANO has held talks with the Communist Party over support for a new government, and the protesters took aim at Babiš.

On Monday, Babiš told newspaper Lidové Noviny he would agree to another candidate from his ANO party leading a new government if proposed by President Miloš Zeman, but that he did not expect such a move now.

His anti-establishment party, pledging to fight political graft and bring a business touch to government, won nearly three times as many votes as its nearest rival in last October’s election but lacks a majority in parliament.

Besides the Social Democrats, ANO could lean on support from the Communists and the far-right, anti-EU SPD party. But many ANO party members oppose such cooperation, especially with the SPD.

Markets have largely shrugged off the political stalemate, with the economy growing and public finances in surplus.

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