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Czech PM to meet ailing president after election defeat

By AFP - Oct 10,2021 - Last updated at Oct 10,2021

Czech Prime Minister and leader of the ANO movement Andrej Babis addresses a press conference next to his wife Monika Babisova (left) at the party’s election headquarters in Prague on Saturday following the release of the preliminary results in the Czech Republic’s general election (AFP photo)

PRAGUE — Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is set to meet the country’s president on Sunday, with the populist billionaire hoping to hold on to power despite a narrow election defeat at the hands of a centre-right alliance.

Babis, a long-time political ally of President Milos Zeman, on Saturday lost the cliffhanger vote to the Together alliance, which is ready to form a majority government with another grouping.

But Zeman made it clear earlier that he would appoint the head of a party, not an alliance, following the election, suggesting Babis would get the first attempt at negotiating a viable Cabinet.

“I can’t see many reasons why he would do something else,” Tomas Lebeda, an analyst at Palacky University in the eastern Czech city of Olomouc, told AFP.

Zeman is due to receive Babis in his residence outside Prague for an informal meeting on Sunday morning, before a more formal encounter scheduled for October 13.

“We’ll see what the president will say,” Babis said as he conceded defeat.

The president cast his ballot in the residence because of poor health, with Czech media suggesting rather serious liver problems.

Zeman’s office has been secretive about his illness, giving no details for weeks.

The Together alliance of the right-wing Civic Democrats, the centre-right TOP 09 and the centrist Christian Democrats won 27.79 per cent of the vote, while Babis’s ANO Party earned 27.13 per cent.

The alliance would have a majority of 108 seats in the 200-seat parliament together with another grouping comprising the anti-establishment Pirate Party and the centrist Mayors and Independents.

Together leader Petr Fiala said on Saturday that the two alliances would only talk about a government with each other and ask Zeman to tap him to form the government.

“It seems that both democratic coalitions will manage to get a parliamentary majority, which most likely means Babis will have to go,” said Otto Eibl, head of the political science department at Masaryk University in Brno.

But Lebeda was more cautious, saying that “we have known [Zeman] for some time, we know how he thinks, how he acts”.

“Given his health, he may reconsider the situation and arrive at a different conclusion, but I wouldn’t bet much on that as things are.”

The two alliances and ANO will be joined in parliament by the far-right, anti-Muslim Freedom and Direct Democracy movement led by Tokyo-born entrepreneur Tomio Okamura which scored almost 10 per cent.

Turnout in the vote reached over 65 per cent, up from 60.84 per cent in the previous general election in 2017.

Babis currently leads a minority government with the left-wing Social Democrats, which was until recently tacitly backed by the Communist Party that ruled the former totalitarian Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989.

But the Communists were ousted from parliament at the polls for the first time since World War II, failing to meet the 5 per cent threshold for any party to enter parliament.

The 67-year-old Babis, a food, chemicals and media mogul, is facing police charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud and the bloc’s dismay over his conflict of interest as a businessman and a politician.

Babis won the previous general election in 2017, but it took him nine months to put together a minority government with Zeman giving him all the time he wanted.

 

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