Czech Tycoon Gets President's Nod for Minority Government

Updated on
  • Zeman sets no conditions for Babis’s appointment as premier
  • Babis has failed to find allies since dominating elections

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis will move ahead with his plan to create a minority government by Christmas after winning an endorsement from President Milos Zeman.

The second-richest Czech is preparing to take power after his euroskeptic ANO party won Oct. 20-21 elections but failed to gain an outright majority. After all mainstream parties rejected Babis’s offer to create a coalition government, he will try to become the first premier in two decades to win parliamentary approval for a minority cabinet.

Andrej Babis, right, and Milos Zeman, Oct. 31.

Photographer: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

“I will name Andrej Babis the prime minister without any conditions,” Zeman said after meeting him on Tuesday. “I think that setting conditions for a winner of the elections wouldn’t be proper.”

Babis now has three weeks to negotiate backing for a government in a fragmented legislature that brings together nine parties. All political forces except the Communists have ruled out supporting a single-party ANO cabinet. Babis himself rejected potential alliances with extremists, while mainstream rivals say a criminal fraud investigation against him has made working with him untenable. Babis has denounced the accusations as politically motivated.

“The rejections were very categorical,” Babis said. “That’s why we will try to create a minority government, and we’ll try to win over lawmakers with our program.”

Babis said he plans to tap non-partisan experts for some ministerial posts as he seeks to make good on his election promises, which include streamlining state operations, cutting taxes for lower earners and increasing investment into railroads and highways.

“A so-called government of experts has always been popular in this country,” said Josef Mlejnek, a political scientist from Charles University in Prague. This “could put pressure on the other political parties to support it because they will feel that if they don’t, the public opinion will turn even more against them.”

First Test

The first test of the tycoon’s effort to secure an ad-hoc majority will come on Nov. 20, when the lower house of parliament opens its inaugural session to elect its leadership. When the subsequent confidence motion takes place, ANO’s 78 lawmakers will either need additional votes from other parties to survive or for some factions to not take part, lowering the quorum for the required simple majority.

Zeman, who’s seeking re-election in January, said he would give Babis another chance to create a government if his first attempt fails. ANO is also demanding a post of the legislature’s chairman, an important position that has the right to pick the premier if a second attempt at winning support loses in a confidence motion.

QuickTake Q&A on Babis’s path to power and his political platform

While the proportional election system traditionally produces fragmented parliaments and leads to multi-party ruling alliances, there have been successful exceptions.

In 1998, the Social Democrats formed a single-party government that clinched a formal agreement with the largest opposition party that eventually kept it in power for a full four-year term. Eight years later, the conservative Civic Democrats proposed a minority cabinet that failed to get parliamentary approval and expanded into a coalition after four months.

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