politics

Czech Social Democrats Mull Cabinet Talks After Changing Leader

Updated on
  • Parliamentary Vice Chairman Hamacek will lead Social Democrats
  • Party says Babis’s criminal probe is ‘fundamental problem’

The opposition Czech Social Democratic Party picked parliamentary Deputy Speaker Jan Hamacek as its new chairman, opening the way for government talks with billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis whose ANO party is struggling to find ruling partners.

Hamacek, 39, beat Jiri Zimola for the post, with both saying they were ready to negotiate with ANO about potential cooperation. While party delegates approved a mandate for the new leadership to hold government talks, they also called on ANO to refrain from nominating people to the cabinet who are under criminal investigation. That refers to a fraud probe against Babis tied to the misuse of European Union funds, an allegation that he rejects as politically motivated.

The fraud investigation remains the biggest obstacle for creating an administration with parliamentary support four months after elections. Babis is now ruling in a caretaker role because lawmakers torpedoed his first minority government in a confidence vote last month after he failed to find ruling partners. Babis is also trying to secure backing from other parties, including the anti-migrant SPD that’s urging exit from the EU and the Communists.

“Government participation of a politician under criminal prosecution is a fundamental problem,” Hamacek told the MF Dnes newspaper in an interview published on Monday. “But it’s mainly ANO’s problem. I’ll be asking our potential partners how they want to address this.”

QuickTake Q&A on Babis’s struggles to create government

Babis reiterated late on Sunday that he is ANO’s only candidate for prime minister and said that a single-party cabinet remained his preferred option, the CTK newswire reported.

Even if the Social Democrats joined a coalition with ANO or agreed on tacit support in parliament, such an arrangement would still lack a majority in the assembly and would need backing from at least one more party. The Communists said they were ready to back Babis’s second attempt at forming a government but wouldn’t aspire to be a part of it, Pravo newspaper cited Vice Chairman Jiri Dolejs in an interview on Saturday.

(Updates with Babis’s comments in fifth paragraph.)
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