Billionaire Andrej Babis Is Named Czech Prime Minister

  • President Zeman set to name Babis’s full cabinet next week
  • Babis has assembled single-party government without majority

Milos Zeman, right, appoints Andrej Babis as prime minister in Prague, on Dec. 6.

Photographer: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

Billionaire Andrej Babis was named Czech prime minister Wednesday, taking a step closer toward his governing plan to cut waste in state spending, build more highways and push the European Union to change its migrant policy.

President Milos Zeman named the second-richest Czech, who controls a chemicals, food and media empire, at a Prague castle ceremony, a week before the head of state is scheduled to appoint the full cabinet. After Babis’s euroskeptic ANO dominated October elections, he is upending the political system by proposing a single-party government without majority backing in parliament.

“We will continue negotiations,” Babis said after the ceremony. “We are preparing the government program, and we will reach out to every party in parliament after Dec. 18 to seek either their support or tolerance.” 

Babis’s path to power has been paved with controversy as police seek to charge him in a criminal fraud case that mainstream parties cite as the main reason they’ve rejected his offer to create a ruling coalition. The billionaire, who has repeatedly attacked traditional political leaders as incompetent and corrupt, denies the accusations and says they’ve been fabricated by his rivals to stop him from taking power.

While Babis rejects comparisons to Donald Trump and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he has portrayed himself as a departure from the parties that have held power since the fall of Communism and pledges to manage the nation of 10.6 million people like a business.

Read more about Babis’s post-election struggles a QuickTake Q&A

He has secured unconditional backing from Zeman, who will run for re-election in January and shares Babis’s opposition to an EU plan to provide shelter to migrants -- a main point of Babis’s election campaign. By law, Zeman can bestow up to two consecutive mandates to prospective prime ministers and he’s vowed to give Babis both, if needed.

ANO will need to negotiate support for the minority cabinet, which must face a confidence vote within 30 days of its appointment. The party won a first parliamentary victory last month by securing the important position of the assembly speaker with help from anti-establishment and fringe parties that Babis has refused to work with in a formal ruling coalition.

They include the Communists, the descendants of the totalitarian party that ruled the country for 40 years. Another is the SPD, whose leader has called on Czechs to harass the tiny number of Muslims living in their country and to hold a Brexit-style referendum on exiting the EU.

The opposition is accusing Babis of striking an informal deal with the two parties after ANO backed their nominees to several leadership positions in parliament. A lawmaker for the anti-Muslim SPD was named the head of the security committee despite warnings by mainstream parties that he promoted what they said was pro-Russian propaganda designed to destabilize the European Union and NATO. The SPD has rejected such allegations and said it won’t back ANO’s cabinet in the upcoming confidence motion.

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