Czech tycoon gets president’s backing to form new government

Fraud charges against billionaire Andrej Babis complicate coalition talks

Andrej Babis leaves after a meeting with Czech president Milos Zeman on Monday at the president’s summer residence near Prague. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

Andrej Babis leaves after a meeting with Czech president Milos Zeman on Monday at the president’s summer residence near Prague. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

 

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis says he has received the backing of the country’s president, Milos Zeman, to form a new government, after the tycoon’s populist Ano party secured a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

The two men met on Monday at Mr Zeman’s summer residence near Prague, to discuss the election results and how Mr Babis may forge a ruling coalition despite being accused of illegally accessing some €2 million in European Union funds.

The allegations, which he denies, have prompted the leaders of most other Czech parties to refuse to co-operate either with Ano or with Mr Babis personally, raising the prospect of long and complicated coalition talks.

In a strong electoral shift to the right, Ano took 78 of the 200 seats in parliament, well ahead of the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) with 25 seats and the anti-establishment Pirate Party and the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD) with 22 seats each.

Mr Babis said Mr Zeman had congratulated him on Ano’s victory and informed him that he would keep a pre-election promise to give the leader of the winning party the first chance to form a new government.

“The president told me that the talks on a new government are absolutely up to me, and he made no recommendation,” the former finance minister added.

“From my experience in government, the fewer [coalition]\ partners there are, the better... For us, the figures are clear – with the ODS we have a mandate of 103 seats, but what is most important is that the government works as a team.”

The current leader of the ODS, Petr Fiala, rejected any such deal however, saying: “I have already ruled out talks with Ano on taking part in a government or supporting a government.”

It may take a change in leadership within the ODS or other parties to facilitate an agreement with Mr Babis, or the billionaire could step aside and let a fellow Ano member become premier while he tries to clear his name in court.

The plain-speaking boss of a sprawling conglomerate worth some €3.4 billion, Mr Babis won over Czechs with promises to run the country like a “family business”, to talk tough with the European Union and keep out refugees and migrants.

Critics fear he will use his vast wealth and major media holdings to undermine Czech democracy, but he dismissed those concerns in his victory speech on Saturday night.