Controversial billionaire Andrej Babis is finally poised to become the fully fledged prime minister of the Czech Republic eight months after winning an election, following a decision by the Social Democrats to join him in a coalition government.
The party announced on Friday that more than 58 per cent of its members had approved a coalition deal in an internal vote, laying the key plank for Mr Babis’s government to secure parliamentary approval after long uncertainty.
The tycoon has been serving as caretaker premier after twice being nominated for the post by Czech president Milos Zeman, who refused to give the nod to any other party leader despite seeing Mr Babis lose an initial confidence vote in January.
Mainstream parties refused for months to join forces with a businessman who faces prosecution for alleged fraud, relating to €2 million in EU subsidies that one of his many firms received a decade ago; Mr Babis denies wrongdoing and vows to clear his name.
"I am glad that the referendum was positive. I'm glad the Social Democrats have decided to enter government with the successful Ano movement," Mr Babis said.
“We were already in government together once before, and that government was successful,” he added, referring to a ruling coalition that was led by the Social Democrats before last October’s elections. “I hope to meet with candidates for ministerial posts in the near future . . . If the government is approved then it can be successful. I will do my utmost. Every minister will be measured by the same standards.”
A coalition of Mr Babis’ Ano party and the Social Democrats would have 93 of the 200 seats in parliament, and is expected to gain a majority by securing the informal support of the Communist party in exchange for certain concessions.
Several parties baulked at the idea of co-operation with the pro-Russian and anti-Nato communists, who are set to influence the running of the country for the first time since the end of one-party rule in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1989.
The communists’ role in providing a majority for the government will ensure that Mr Zeman – an ally of the party who enjoys warm ties with the Kremlin and takes a sceptical view of the EU and Nato – also retains influence over Mr Babis and his cabinet.
Petr Fiala, leader of the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) who are the second-largest party in parliament, said the result of the Social Democrats' vote was "no surprise".
He said the party’s leaders had done “everything to convince its membership base that under the patronage of Milos Zeman a semi-communist government had been formed” comprising Ano, the Social Democrats and the communists.
“Such a government will not be a partner, but an adversary, for the ODS,” he added.
Also on Friday, Mr Babis said he was suing his native Slovakia in the European Court of Human Rights over a February court decision there to reject his bid to be removed from a list of people who collaborated with the communist-era secret police.