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Czech mogul PM’s party loses top ranking after virus woes

By AFP - Feb 14,2021 - Last updated at Feb 14,2021

PRAGUE — Billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s populist party lost top spot in opinion polls for the first time since 2017, a survey showed Sunday, as his government was accused of a bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The centrist populist ANO (YES) movement scored 26.5 per cent voter support in a poll published by public broadcaster Czech Television eight months ahead of a general election scheduled for October.

ANO has topped all polls with support hovering around 30 per cent since the last general election in 2017.

But the latest poll by the Kantar CZ agency put it in the second spot behind a coalition comprising the centrist Mayors and Independents movement and the anti-establishment Pirate Party, which took 29.5 per cent.

Kantar said the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the results of the poll conducted at the turn of January and February on a random sample of 1,200 voting-aged Czechs.

“The COVID situation started to worsen again at the beginning of this year,” Kantar said.

ANO’s minority government with the leftwing Social Democrats depends on the tacit support of the far-left Communists for its survival in parliament.

Last Thursday, however, the Communists left it in the lurch as parliament voted down an extension of the state of emergency, the government’s legal vehicle for battling the virus.

Babis then turned to regional governors whose formal request for a new state of emergency allowed the measure to be pushed through on Sunday.

“Ending the state of emergency would mean an easing and we can’t afford that,” Babis told reporters on Sunday as the government extended the measure until the end of February.

“The situation isn’t good, the highly contagious British strain is spreading in the Czech Republic,” he added.

Western neighbour Germany partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol on Sunday over a surge in coronavirus mutations, drawing a swift rebuke from the European Union.

An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic has seen over a million confirmed cases and more than 18,000 deaths since the March outbreak.

It has also registered some of the world’s highest infection rates on a per capita basis in recent months.

The government last week quarantined three of the worst-hit regions as the latest addition to its measures comprising blanket closures of schools, restaurants and most shops and an overnight curfew.


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