Czech Mogul Faces Tough Cabinet Talks After Election TriumphBy , , and
Babis’s ANO invites leaders of all parties for negotiations
Some potential partners reject cooperation over fraud charges
Czech billionaire Andrej Babis hit his first obstacle to forming a new cabinet after dominating the country’s parliamentary elections, with potential coalition partners declining to join him in government as long as he’s facing criminal fraud charges.
After promising to run the state like a business, fight Muslim immigration and oppose deeper integration with the European Union, Babis’s ANO party won 29.6 percent of ballots on Saturday. The euro-skeptic Civic Democrats were second, followed by two anti-establishment parties, the Pirates and the anti-Muslim SPD. Mainstream and pro-EU political forces suffered heavy losses.
As the second-richest Czech, Babis has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi. He took credit for one of the fastest economic expansions in the EU and the bloc’s lowest unemployment, but his opponents have accused him of conflicts of interest tied to his agriculture and media businesses. A month before the vote, he was charged with fraud. He has rejected the allegations, but his current coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, said they won’t join him in power as long as the case remains open.
“He may not reach an agreement in the first round of talks, but later some of the parties may reconsider their stances,” said Pavel Saradin, a professor of political science at Masaryk University in Brno. “It depends on what he offers them in exchange for letting him stay in the government and keep his immunity. And if all attempts fail, he can certainly form a minority government.”
During the campaign, ANO criticized the EU for overreach and vowed to keep Muslim refugees out of what has been one of the countries least affected by Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II. After the election victory, Babis called ANO a pro-European party, while reiterating his opposition to deeper integration within the bloc.
ANO’s positions helped shatter the middle-ground of Czech politics, with traditional forces like the Social Democrats, which leads the outgoing government, plunging to a fifth-place. The Pirate Party, which supports digital freedom and streamlining the state through technology, was third, followed by the SPD, whose full name is Freedom and Direct Democracy and which resembles Germany’s far-right AfD. It was the first time either won seats in the lower house.
Still, Babis is unlikely to push for a radical change of Czech foreign policy, which is anchored by memberships in the EU and NATO, according to Vit Dostal, head OF international relations think-tank AMO in Prague.
Babis invited leaders of the other parties for talks, and said he hoped the government would be formed quickly. He said there was no proof to support the fraud charge and called for it to end. He also repeated a vow not to create a coalition with the Communists and the SPD.
President Milos Zeman said Sunday he’ll name Babis as prime minister to lead government talks. The two officials are expected to meet on Monday.
Fired from the finance minister’s post in May, Babis, 63, has boasted of streamlining government operations and pushing through a law requiring retailers to link cash registers to the Finance Ministry to boost budget revenue and crack down on tax evasion.
In his election campaign, Babis promised to increase investment in highways and railroads and lower income taxes. He also pledged not to increase taxes for companies. He wants to finance his plans with better tax collection and savings by improving state operations.
— With assistance by Elizabeth Konstantinova