The Czech Republic’s caretaker prime minister, billionaire populist Andrej Babis, on February 21 emerged from talks with the Social Democrats (CSSD) saying that his only current option for forming an administration is a government of his party ANO and the CSSD, with the tolerance of the Communists (KSCM).
Unless other mainstream parties changed their mind and agreed to tolerate his government, there would be no other alternative, he added. Babis has failed to secure a parliamentary vote of confidence, despite taking 78 seats out of 200 in last October’s general election, because all the mainstream parties have refused to accept him as premier while fraud charges over EU subsidies are hanging over him.
After Babis came out of the talks, it was made clear that Ano and the CSSD had not dealt in detail with the question of a person charged with a crime being in the cabinet, but Babis told reporters that the Ano movement would never budge from its position that he should be the prime minister. CSSD has so far somewhat fudged the issue. At its weekend party congress, the Social Democrats mandated new leader Jan Hamacek and his first deputy Jiri Zimola to renew talks with Babis. While also passing a resolution declaring that his fraud charges remain a fundamental problem and calling on Ano not to nominate prosecuted or accused persons for the cabinet, the CSSD stopped short of saying it would not work in government with such persons.
Speaking after his first meeting with Hamacek and Zimola, Babis said he thought it might be possible to have a government in place before the start of the summer break, adding: "I have a good feeling from the talks. They took place in a normal atmosphere."
Addressing reporters after his discussions with Babis, Hamacek indicated that the CSSD planned to put off settling the question of Babis being in the cabinet until a later date. He said: "We can discuss cooperation at the government level, on the condition that we are able to reach an agreement on programme and eventually on personnel issues."
What Babis—who last week suffered a blow when a Slovak court dismissed his claim he was wrongly identified as a Communist-era Czechoslovakian StB secret police agent—means by securing the tolerance of the Communists is as yet unclear. Most observers believe it would be a case of the 15 KSCM MPs leaving the chamber during votes—that would leave the chamber with a maximum of 185 present MPs, 93 of which would be either Ano or CSSD representatives.
Though the hardline Communists are still shunned by a good deal of the Czech population, the recently narrowly re-elected Kremlin-friendly populist president, Milos Zeman, is making it clear that he sees them as an entirely legitimate part of the political scene. Indeed, according to KSCM leader Vojtech Filip, who met with Zeman on February 21, the president has agreed to speak at his party’s congress in April. This would be the first time since 1990 that a Czech president had attended the Communists’ annual gathering.
Zeman is also on friendly terms with the neo-fascist Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party of Tomio Okamura, which has 22 seats in parliament. Earlier this year, he spoke at the SPD’s congress. Czech daily Pravo reported on February 22 that Okamura had said on the day of the Ano-CSSD talks that the SPD is prepared to support a Babis government and that it is up to Babis to decide whether to meet SPD’s political agenda in exchange. CSSD is not able to guarantee all its 15 votes in the chamber, he said, in reference to CSSD MPs, such as former prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who are known as among the Ano leader’s political enemies.
Meanwhile, the daily also reported Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) vice chair Jan Bartosek as saying he is marginally optimistic that he will obtain the 80 signatures needed from MPs to take a vote on removing Okamura as deputy speaker of parliament’s lower chamber. The result of that vote would depend on Ano’s MPs who were divided on the issue, he added.
The centrist STAN movement, with six MPs, is another party that has warned of the dangers the extremists pose should they become influential in a Babis administration. It has said it is prepared for negotiations with Babis to keep far-left and far-right parties out of the picture.