Babis faces struggle to assemble coalition despite runaway election win

Babis faces struggle to assemble coalition despite runaway election win
By bne IntelliNews October 24, 2017

Czech general election winner Andrej Babis on October 23 ruled out running a minority government but his path towards a satisfactory coalition arrangement looks mightily complicated.

Billionaire Babis's anti-establishment Ano (“Action of Dissatisfied Citizens”) movement took 29.6% of the vote and 78 of the 200 seats in the lower house of parliament in the weekend election, but the rest of the seats will be split between eight other parties.

After meeting with Czech President Milos Zeman at the presidential chateau in Lany, Babis — who has been promised the position of prime minister by Zeman even though an EU subsidy fraud charge and unresolved claims that he was a Communist-era secret police agent in his native Slovakia are hanging over his head — told reporters that his government would preferably have as few parties as possible.

“A single-colour government is not realistic... Therefore we want to negotiate a coalition government,” he said, adding: “We of course prefer to have a stable partner in government for the whole term.”

Babis suggested that a link-up with the election runner-up, the centre-right Civic Democrat (ODS) party, would be logical given that together Ano and ODS would have a majority of seats in the lower house. However, ODS, has refused to cooperate.

Here we take a brief look at who's who among the eight parties that will enter parliament with runaway election winner Ano.

Civic Democrats (ODS) – 25 MPs

This traditional conservative party has so far come out against serving in an administration with Ano, with leader Petr Fiala saying he is against working with a prime minister facing a fraud charge and with a party that has incompatible policies. ODS, for example, is opposed to the digital recording of retailers' transactions introduced by Babis while he was finance minister in the last coalition government to combat VAT fraud. It wants the scheme scrapped. ODS is also opposed to the re-election of Zeman as head of state in the presidential election due next January, while Zeman, another populist, is an unofficial ally of Babis.

The party, however, is rather eurosceptic, though perhaps not so much as Ano. An interesting scenario might open up if Fiala was replaced by Vaclav Klaus Jnr. as leader. Though new in parliament, in the election he was second only to Babis in the number of preferential votes expressed for candidates by voters. Klaus Jnr. has earned great repute for his work as an educator and he is the son of former prime minister and president Vaclav Klaus, the principal co-founder of the ODS who was notable for his strong views on free markets and scepticism towards Brussels, and for his global warming denial. It might be the case that Klaus Jnr.'s policy priorities are closer to Babis's than are Fiala's and there are already some voices calling for him to take the party's helm. There is also an argument that Klaus Jnr. is more charismatic than Fiala.

Pirate Party – 22 MPs

The young-generation Pirates are entering the Czech parliament for the first time. They have said they will not work with Babis. They are very pro-EU and their priorities include political transparency, anti-corruption, e-government, small business, tax avoidance prevention, civil liberties and elements of direct democracy.

Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) – 22 MPs

A far right outfit led by Czech-Japanese-South Korean Tomio Okamura. Babis has said he will not have the SPD in any coalition. They are hard Eurosceptic and want a 'Czexit' referendum. The party is also anti-immigration and ferociously anti-Islam. They want, at the very least, a ban on the promotion of Islam in the country and perhaps even a ban on Islam full stop. Okamura has even called on people to walk pigs near mosques. Babis is in tune with the SPD's call for the Czech Republic to accept no migrants under the EU's quota scheme.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) – 15 MPs

The Communists crashed to their worst ever election result since the post-Communist era began in 1989. Babis could not countenance the idea of having them in the cabinet as it would be too damaging to Ano with a great many voters. However, there is always the chance of a background arrangement for support in parliament, particularly when it comes to key votes. The rewards, of course, would have to be worked out first. The KSCM has no problem with Zeman, a president who so often takes the side of Moscow, such as when he recently described Russia's conquering of the Crimea as a fait accompli.

Social Democrats (CSSD) – 15 MPs

There is some prospect that they could feature in a new coalition with Babis, but they were decimated by the election with a result that means they go from being the senior partner in the last ruling coalition to an also-ran in parliament. Babis's anti-establishment campaign against them meant that they became more eurosceptic and anti-migrant as the election neared to try and tempt over some Ano voters, but most voters that did move from Ano switched to one of the other parties. They also pushed in their manifesto for very rewarding pay rises for workers, particularly for state employees in health and education. Ano is likely to want less generous pay hikes.

Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) – 10 MPs

They were the smallest party in the last coalition government which also featured the CSSD and ANO. There is a reasonable chance that the centrist KDU-CSL will be invited by Babis to jump on board for his new government but they have stated that they will not work with him. The party is determined that the Czech Republic should be in the EU core.

TOP 09 – 7 MPs

A liberal-conservative party who seek “tradition, responsibility and prosperity”. Led by a former finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, they are strongly anti-Babis and pro-European. They are also opposed to Zeman and want Babis' law requiring digital recording of sales in retailers scrapped. However, they are another traditional party that has been marginalised. In the 2013 election they gained 26 seats in parliament, so their return this time around is dismal.

Mayors and Independents (STAN) – 6 MPs

Liberal-conservative and pro-European, they focus on localism and promoting powers for municipalities. They cooperated with TOP 09 until 2016. STAN has said it will not work with Babis.