Czech Prime Minister Courts Communists in Pre-Election Gamble

  • Social Democrats competing with ANO party for leftist voters
  • Sobotka sees pro-European government after fall elections

Czech Premier Bohuslav Sobotka said his Social Democrats could create a ruling coalition with the opposition Communists to prevent billionaire Finance Minister Andrej Babis from taking power after fall elections.

The prime minister signaled a possible break from Czech mainstream parties’ tradition since the fall of the Iron Curtain of keeping the third-placed Communists out of central government. Trailing in opinion polls behind the finance minister’s ANO PARTY, the Social Democrats are vying to win over leftist voters also targeted by Babis, the second-richest Czech. Sobotka said his party has already held a number of functioning coalitions with the Communists in regional administrations, Hospodarske Noviny reported on Friday.

Bohuslav Sobotka

Photographer: Martin Divsek/Bloomberg

“The political spectrum is changing,” Sobotka told the newspaper in an interview. “I don’t think there is an environment here to create a purely leftist government after the elections, but there may be a pro-European government that will respect social peace.”

Sobotka and Babis, the country’s most popular politician, are the main contenders to lead the next government, according to opinion surveys. While they have cooperated in what is now the longest-serving Czech government in over a decade, the two leaders disagree on key issues including welfare spending, taxes and the state’s role in the economy.

Read more about the conflicts between Sobotka and Babis

While the six-year-old ANO party advocates restrained fiscal policy and accuses traditional political forces of being corrupt and cumbersome, Babis has said he too may negotiate with the Communists after the vote.

Echoing the rise of anti-establishment forces across Europe, both the Communists and ANO are addressing voters disillusioned by leaders that have dominated Czech politics since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The Communist Party’s manifesto envisages creating a Socialist economy based on Marxist principles and calls for the dissolution of NATO, to which the Czechs belong. It says it’s ready to rule on the national stage for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall pushed it to the political sidelines.

In an example of rising tension between Sobotka and Babis, the prime minister called on the chemical and food magnate this week to explain how and why he used a loophole to avoid paying millions of koruna in taxes by buying securities issued by his own company. Sobotka also presented a proposal to impose special levies on banks after the election to finance some social programs, which underscored his discord with Babis’s opposition to higher corporate taxes. Babis has said he has broken no law and wants to reinstate taxation on investment returns that are now exempt.

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