Czech President Vows Continued Backing for Billionaire Babis
(Bloomberg) -- Czech President Milos Zeman, who’s vying for re-election this month, pledged to stand by Prime Minister Andrej Babis even if his minority cabinet fails to win parliamentary approval on its first try.
Speaking to lawmakers in Prague, Zeman said Wednesday that Babis’s first attempt to form a cabinet would probably fail in a confidence vote. If that happens, the president said he’d grant the premier a second mandate to form a government after he negotiates backing in parliament. The negotiations may drag on, evoking the situation in neighboring Germany where government talks have taken months, Zeman said. Lawmakers adjourned the confidence-vote session until Jan. 16.
“I commit to creating a sufficient time window before the second attempt, perhaps similar to the German model, so that there can be negotiations leading either to a majority coalition government, or a minority government” tolerated by other parliamentary parties, Zeman said.
Zeman’s unwavering support for Babis, a sometime ally who shares the president’s distaste for the European Union’s refugee policy, has polarized the political landscape in the country of 10.6 million people. Although Babis’s euroskeptic ANO party dominated October elections, it fell short of a majority. Since then, political forces including those he ruled with in the most recent administration have refused to work with him.
The main reason they’re rejecting cooperation is a fraud investigation tied to allegations that one of the companies in the tycoon’s business empire misused EU aid. Babis has denied any wrongdoing and says that the case has been fabricated to derail his political career.
Czech police have asked parliament to strip Babis of his immunity from prosecution to allow a probe into the alleged misuse of the EU subsidy. Babis was charged in the same case before the election, but his protection was renewed when he was again elected to the chamber.
In an address to lawmakers on Wednesday, Babis promised his government will implement digital services for citizens, boost pensions and accelerate the building of infrastructure, including highways and railways. Mainstream parties, which Babis labeled as incompetent and corrupt during the election campaign, said the fraud investigation made Babis unfit to lead the government.
Czechs will cast ballots in a Jan. 12-13 first round of voting in the presidential election and are expected to send Zeman and a challenger into a runoff two weeks later.
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