Czech parliament delays confidence vote in scandal-hit premier

Andrej Babis will be nominated as premier again if he loses first vote, says president

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis: faces allegations of illegally accessing some €2 million in EU funds. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis: faces allegations of illegally accessing some €2 million in EU funds. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

 

The Czech parliament has unexpectedly postponed a confidence vote in the government of billionaire Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, who faces allegations of illegally accessing some €2 million in European Union funds.

The chamber on Wednesday delayed a vote that Mr Babis was expected to lose and rescheduled it for next Tuesday, after the first round of presidential elections in which his ally Milos Zeman is seeking a new term. Mr Zeman told deputies that he would nominate Mr Babis to be premier again if he lost the first confidence vote.

Mr Babis’s populist Ano party easily won elections last October and took 78 of 200 seats in the Czech parliament, but the other eight parties represented in the chamber refused to form a coalition with a tycoon who faces a charge of fraud.

Czech prosecutors accuse Mr Babis of fraudulently receiving EU financing for a farm and conference centre near Prague. He denies the allegations, but could face trial if deputies vote again to strip him of immunity from prosecution, which he regained after the election last autumn.

Ahead of the planned confidence vote, Mr Babis restated his desire for coalition talks with other parties, insisting that his government’s policies reflected a broad range of priorities.

“We say that our [Ano] movement is for everyone. Those of you who identify yourselves as on the right or left – we are for everyone,” Mr Babis told deputies in a speech before the vote.

“We have a programme for everyone and that’s why, in conclusion, I think that you should support us.”

Second chance

Citing arduous coalition talks in Germany, Mr Zeman – who shares Mr Babis’s anti-immigration and Eurosceptic views – told deputies he would give the billionaire time for negotiations if he needed a second attempt to win their backing.

“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,” Mr Zeman said.

“I suppose Mr Babis will keep me informed about the results of his negotiations, and when he comes and says he has [a majority of] at least 101 guaranteed votes, I will appoint him for the second time,” he added.

On Thursday Mr Babis is widely expected to publicly throw his support behind Mr Zeman’s bid to secure another term as president in elections on Friday and Saturday – with a run-off later this month if no candidate takes a majority.

Jiri Pehe, the director of Prague’s New York University, said Mr Zeman’s offer of a second chance to Mr Babis was “highly unusual”.

“If you appoint someone and he doesn’t get support, then you should try someone else ... I think all this has been pre-ordained with Babis,” he added.

Analysts had expected Mr Babis’s government to lose the confidence vote on Wednesday and resign next week, before continuing to run the country ahead of a repeat nomination from Mr Zeman, whose mandate runs until early March.