Babis to attempt minority Czech government as other parties reject coalition talks

Babis to attempt minority Czech government as other parties reject coalition talks
The establishment parties have refused to go into coalition with the anti-establishment Ano movement led by populist Babis.
By bne IntelliNews November 1, 2017

Runaway Czech general election winner, populist billionaire Andrej Babis, said on November 1 he will attempt to form a minority government after other parties rejected an invitation from his anti-establishment Ano movement to try to form a ruling coalition.

After meeting President Milos Zeman—a fellow populist who has formally given Babis a mandate to form the next government and has said he is minded to approve a minority government should Ano’s leader pursue one— Babis said he was “very sorry” the other parties had turned down the option of going into a coalition with Ano, which in the October 20-21 election won 78 of the lower house of parliament’s 200 seats. with the other 122 shared between eight other parties.

Babis said he hoped to have a minority government in place by the Christmas holidays but analysts were immediately wary of the political strife that lies ahead potentially derailing items such as the approval of the 2018 budget. If a budget is not passed by the end of the year, the law says the state should run with the previous year’s budget. That could impose significant limitations on non-mandatory spending including investments.

The other parties have refused to countenance going into coalition with Babis given that he is facing fraud charges over a €2mn EU subsidy. Ano is eurosceptic and anti-migrant, but commentators have also noted that there is essentially a big hole where Babis’s wider foreign policy should be particularly as to Czechia’s westward or eastward orientation. Anxieties have arisen that, in tandem with Kremlin-friendly Zeman, an Ano government could shift the country more towards Moscow’s orbit, while Babis has been accused of showing authoritarian tendencies with suggestions, for instance, that the lower house can be streamlined and the Senate abolished.

Babis, who denies the fraud charges and has insisted that Ano is pro-EU, pro-Nato and entirely democratic-minded, told a news briefing after his meeting with Zeman: “We will try to form a minority government and will try to convince lawmakers [of] other parties with our programme.”

Zeman said: “I will name Andrej Babis the prime minister without any conditions. I think that setting conditions for a winner of the elections wouldn’t be proper.”

So far, only the Communists have said they could accept a minority government. The far right anti-Islam Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, which captured 11% of the vote and 22 seats in the election, has said it will not work with Babis.

Babis has been given three weeks to obtain parliamentary approval for the first minority cabinet in two decades. He has rejected the idea of forming a coalition with the extremist parties and has said he will tap non-partisan experts for some ministerial posts. Zeman said that if Babis fails in his first attempt to form a government, he is likely to give him a second go at it.

“A so-called government of experts has always been popular in this country,” Josef Mlejnek, a political scientist from Charles University in Prague, told Bloomberg. He added that such a government “could put pressure on the other political parties to support it because they will feel that if they don’t, the public opinion will turn even more against them.”