The runaway Czech general election winner, populist party Ano led by billionaire Andrej Babis, met with a far right anti-European Union, anti-immigration group on October 26 as it embarked on a tortuous search for coalition partners that could help it form a government.
The move came as British conservative current affairs magazine The Spectator reported that Czechia had become the 7/2 favourite to be the next country to leave the European Union after the UK. However, analysts, mindful that Babis has pledged Ano will meet all parties that made it into parliament following the October 20-21 election, will not at this stage read too much into the meeting with the group, the Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party. Indeed, Babis has previously ruled out having the SPD and Communists in his cabinet. SPD leader Tomio Okamura is fiercely anti-Islam and has in the past drawn loud condemnation for urging people to resort to protest actions such as walking pigs near mosques.
On October 27, top-selling serious Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes—which is owned by Babis—reported that senior figures in Ano see only two realistic political solutions for governing. The first option would be a two-party coalition with the election runner-up, the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS), but the party’s leader Petr Fiala has so far dismissed the idea, saying ODS’s ongoing revival would be damaged because it would be unable to address its platform priorities. The second option would be a minority government. The newspaper said that the threat of Ano forming such an administration with the one-time support of the extremist SPD could pressure at least part of ODS to push Fiala to back down from his no-coalition stance and act like a “statesman”.
Czexit referendum advocate Zeman to kick off coalition talks
Coalition talks are set to begin in earnest early next week when President Milos Zeman—another populist and a Kremlin-friendly head of state who has called for a referendum on a Czexit from the European Union despite claiming he wants the highly eurosceptic country to remain in the European bloc—formally charges Babis with establishing a government in advance of naming him PM. Czech daily Pravo on October 27 quoted entrepreneur Babis, who has said he wants to run the government more like a business, as asserting that he wants to assemble a government of experts because citizens want their cabinet to work not squabble.
Anti-establishment ANO won three times the votes of its nearest rival in the national poll, but 'anti-politician' Babis faces a daunting task in assembling a coalition given the fact that apart from his party eight parties will form the new parliament, with each having only a handful or a modest amount of MPs.
Added to that difficulty is that Babis is being investigated by the police for an alleged defrauding of the EU over a small and medium sized business subsidy and the establishment parties are generally refusing to countenance working with him unless his innocence is established.
Mathematically, Babis—who insists he is in no way an illiberal politician and is pro-EU membership, while at the same time he has picked up a lot of votes by warning Brussels against over-reach and promising voters that he will not take Czechia into the eurozone at least for the next four years—certainly has the option of running a minority government but he says he is confident of forming a ruling coalition at the first attempt.
Ano won 78 seats in the 200-seat Czech lower house compared to the SPD's 22. Both parties also appealed to voters in the country of 10.6mn by saying that they would not accept immigrants under EU quota schemes, while Babis may agree to SPD's policy that a law should be introduced to allow referendums on matters such as EU membership.