Czech communists help tycoon’s cabinet win confidence vote

Andrej Babis finally breaks nine months of post-election deadlock

 Czech Republic prime minister Andrej Babis  arrives for a parliamentary session on a confidence vote in the  Prague parliament on Thursday. Photograph:  Martin Divisek/EPA

Czech Republic prime minister Andrej Babis arrives for a parliamentary session on a confidence vote in the Prague parliament on Thursday. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

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The Czech Republic finally gained a fully-fledged government on Thursday, nine months after elections and amid continuing controversy over billionaire premier Andrej Babis’s legal travails and co-operation with the Communist Party.

After some 16 hours of fractious debate, 105 of the Czech parliament’s 200 deputies approved a coalition government led by Mr Babis’s populist Ano party, which won elections last October but then struggled to find allies with whom to rule.

Mainstream parties were reluctant to work with Mr Babis while he faces prosecution for allegedly misappropriating €2 million in EU funds – a charge that he denies – and he has governed in a caretaker capacity since losing a first confidence vote in January.

He finally managed to persuade the Social Democrats to join Ano in a coalition, however, and this week the communists officially agreed to back the government in important votes, giving it an effective majority.

Pro-Russian Czech president Milos Zeman brokered the deal, which prompted hundreds of people to protest outside parliament against the communists gaining a say in the running of the country for the first time since 1989.

“Unfortunately, confidence was gained by this semi-communist government, which is incomplete and does not have a good and concrete programme for the Czech Republic,” Petr Fiala, leader of the centre-right Civic Democrats, said after the vote in the early hours of Thursday.

Plagiarism scandal

He complained that Mr Babis’s cabinet lacked a full-time foreign minister after Mr Zeman rejected candidate Miroslav Poche for being “soft” on immigration, and he noted the haste with which a new justice minister was appointed this week, after Tatana Mala was forced to resign from the post due to a plagiarism scandal.

During the debate, Mr Fiala – whose party is the second-largest in parliament – told deputies they were facing “a very serious moment and a serious decision”.

“The return of the Communist Party to power and influence in the Czech Republic is the responsibility of the president and prime minister, and also of every deputy who will support the government,” he said.

Milan Chovanec, a former interior minister and prominent member of the Social Democrats, said his conscience would not allow him to vote for a coalition government in which his party would merely provide a “fig leaf” of respectability.

Centre-right opposition deputy Marian Jurecka also denounced Mr Babis’s deal with the far left: “I have never heard an apology in the chamber of deputies for what happened during 40 years of communist government – are you really proud of such a government . . . Will your children not be ashamed today?” he asked.

Mr Babis (63) insists the communists will not have undue influence, and pledged to be tough on immigration and defend Czech interests in the EU, without provoking conflict with the country’s allies.

He said his government wanted to increase investments, pensions and public sector wages, while cutting some taxes.

The tycoon briefly left parliament to address protesters on Wednesday night, but quickly returned after being met with cries of “Shame!” and a light shower of plastic bottles.

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