New anti-immigration Czech government to lean on communist support

Eurosceptic tycoon Andrej Babis remains as premier despite fraud allegations

Czech president Milos Zeman has appointed a new government led by controversial tycoon Andrej Babis, despite criticism of its reliance on communist support and corruption allegations that continue to dog the billionaire premier.

The new cabinet will face a confidence vote next month in parliament, which in January rejected Mr Babis’s previous bid to form a government due to concern over accusations that one of his firms illegally tapped €2 million in EU funds.

Mr Babis denies the charge and has persuaded the Social Democrats to join his Ano party in a coalition that will have 93 of the 200 seats in parliament, and expects to enjoy an informal majority thanks to backing from communist deputies.

The far left's Eurosceptic, anti-Nato and pro-Russian stance chimes with the views of Mr Zeman, and critics denounced him for appointing the new government on the day that Czechs honour victims of four decades of communist dictatorship.


Swearing-in ceremony

"Our government will fight for the safety of our citizens, especially against illegal migration and to protect our interests in Europe, " Mr Babis said during Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony at Prague Castle.

“Our government will also fight against corruption, waste and bureaucracy,” added Mr Babis, the Czech Republic’s second-richest man, who served as finance minister before elections last October that the populist Ano easily won.

Mr Babis (63) has led a caretaker government since January and now plans to raise state wages and pensions while cutting some taxes; he has also reassured the EU and Nato that he is committed to Czech membership of both organisations.

The communists could be tricky allies, however, due to their demands for senior positions in big state firms and their calls for the Czech Republic to scale back its commitment to Nato missions – especially those near Russia's borders.

Opposition parties lambasted Mr Babis for giving the communists a say in the running of state affairs for the first time since 1989, and warn that Mr Zeman will use the leftists to manipulate and potentially destabilise the government.

‘Government of experts’

The centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS), who are the second-largest force in parliament, said they would not back the new cabinet.

"Andrej Babis has repeatedly promised that his government will be a government of experts. But reality clearly shows that the main qualification for being a minister in the new semi-communist government must be loyalty to Andrej Babis and M. Zeman. This is a bad news for the whole of the Czech Republic," ODS leader Petr Fiala wrote on Twitter.

“The president today named a government that will go down in the history of the Czech Republic as the first political semi-communist government since 1989... The ODS will not back such a government, because it disagrees with its composition, programme and the way it was formed,” he added.

Petr Gazdik, leader of the Mayors and Independents party, said: "The appointment of the new government, directly supported by the communists, on the day of communist victims is symbolic. We consider this a mockery of the victims of the communist regime."

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe