Czech president ready to nominate Babis to try to form a new government

Czech president ready to nominate Babis to try to form a new government
Prime Minister Andrej Babis (right) claims that President Milos Zeman (left) reiterated that he would give him the first chance to form a government.
By bne IntelliNews October 14, 2021

Czech President Milos Zeman is ready to ask current Prime Minister Andrej Babis to form a new government following the parliamentary elections last weekend,  Babis said two days after the meeting with the president on Sunday, October 10. Babis had not mentioned this earlier when asked what issues both politicians addressed, before Zeman was taken to intensive care

The populist billionaire stressed that the president had made such an offer repeatedly and it is now up to Babis whether he accepts it. He also said he would like to meet the president once his health improves to present his final decision first to the head of state (before the media).

The president's resolve to nominate Babis despite the opposition victory in the election could seriously delay the formation of a new government, particularly as Zeman is likely to be in hospital for several weeks and may not be able to hold political discussions.

At the same time, however, Babis admitted that his party is ready to go into opposition, if it fails to get the vote of confidence within 30 days after the appointment. ANO's chances of forming a goverment look slim, because the two opposition coalitions now have a majority of 108 in the 200-member chamber.

Before the elections Babis claimed to several media that if his party did not win the parliamentary elections and if it were not possible to create the new government, he would leave politics.

“I can't imagine being in the opposition seats. I'm not a politician who makes great speeches, I'm not a good orator and most importantly I wouldn't be able to do anything, I would not be able to change anything. Only a majority government can advocate relevant issues for citizens,” he had said. 

However, later on Sunday, after the election, he changed his mind and said he would not give up and would stay in the opposition. "I'm not giving up, I have bad news for you, I'm staying in the chamber. If we end up in the opposition, I will be there and we will be closely watching [ODS party and SPOLU leader] Mr [Petr] Fiala's promises," he said.  

At the general elections held last weekend, the premier's ANO party lost to the SPOLU coalition (which consists of the rightwing ODS and the centre-right KDU-CSL and TOP09 parties), which gained 27.8% of the vote and 71 seats in the lower house. The liberal Pirate-STAN coalition (Pirate party and Mayors and Independents) received 15.6% (and 37 seats in the Chamber of Deputies) and the far-right SPD 9.6% of votes and 20 seats. ANO took 27.1% of the votes but won 72 seats, one more than SPOLU, and far ahead of any other single party.

Zeman had said prior to the election that he would appoint the leader of the strongest winning party, not a coalition, meaning he would choose Babis´ ANO. However, as the Social Democrats which are currently Babis´ junior coalition party, and the hardline Communists failed to enter the lower house with less than 5% of votes, ANO losts its potential partners. 

Thus it will be very unlikely for Babis to receive the vote of confidence in the 200-member parliament in which the two anti-Babis coalitions (SPOLU, Pirate-STAN) have 108 seats. 

Both SPOLU and Pirate-STAN on Saturday, October 9, already concluded a memorandum on joint government, claiming they will not go into a government with Babis. The coalitions plan to finish their talks and sign a government coalition agreement by November 8. 

The leaders of the coalitions and the new forming government have agreed to divide up the ministries, with nine ministries going to SPOLU and six to Pirate-STAN.

The list of divided ministries is not final yet, but there are speculations that STAN leader Vit Rakusan would get the interior ministry, the chair of Pirates Ivan Bartos the Ministry of Regional Development (which is in charge of EU funds), leader of TOP09 Marketa Pekarova Adamova or vice-chair of Pirates Olga Richterova would be considered for labour minister. The chair of the ODS parliamentary club Zbynek Stanjura would claim the finance ministry, while the chair of TOP09 parliamentary club Vlastimil Valek would be the candidate for the health ministry. 

Zeman was supposed to meet with the winning parties on October 13, however, he might need to stay in the hospital for three weeks. Therefore, the president agreed to meet Fiala, who had asked for a post-election meeting, “at a later date”, confirmed the president's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek on Twitter. 

Speculations about Zeman´s health have become one of the main media topics in recent weeks amid a lack of information from Prague Castle. The President's closest staff assures the public that the president is capable of performing his duties but it is not clear that the president's health problems will allow his active involvement in the post-election negotiations. Officially, the public knows that his health condition did not allow him to vote in public. 

Ovcacek called everyone who is demanding a clear report on Zeman´s health “hyenas hungry for sensations”.   

The speaker of the Czech Senate Milos Vystrcil asked Prague Castle for a prognosis on Zeman´s health. The Senate Constitutional Committee will address the president's unclear health status on October 19, to clarify whether the Senate, which Zeman sees as a useless institution that should be abolished, will proceed to exercise the president's duties if his health does not improve.