Billionaire Czech Premier to Step Aside After Ballot Defeat
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he’ll step aside after unexpectedly losing national elections in the Czech Republic, opening the way for parties who have slammed him for scandals and clashes with the European Union to take power.
Babis’s statement removes significant uncertainty over the post-election landscape after five parties who have vowed to oust him won a combined parliamentary majority and started preparing to form a ruling coalition. Babis took a shot at keeping his post this week by reaching out to the group’s strongest party, the center-right Civic Democrats, which rejected his offer.
President Milos Zeman, who appoints the head of government under the constitution, has said he’ll pick the leader of the strongest single party, which is Babis’s ANO. But the chemical, farming and media mogul, who dominated the country’s politics for seven years, said he wouldn’t accept such an offer and his party will move to the opposition.
“I won’t accept an offer to create a government,” Babis said on Twitter on Friday. “We will go into opposition without a single attempt. We don’t cling to positions, we won’t block anything.”
While the five anti-Babis parties will hold a comfortable majority in the new parliament, the constitution gives Zeman, as head of state, wide sway, and he has defied conventions before. Babis signaled he may end up in opposition but he had kept his options open by saying he’d wait to see whether Zeman would tap him to become premier.
The situation became more complicated after Zeman was rushed to an intensive care unit of a Prague hospital on Sunday, and it’s unclear when he can move forward with the process. His office faces growing criticism from political parties and media for refusing to provide details about Zeman’s medical condition.
The alliance vying to take over has said it may create a government by Christmas if the president doesn’t prolong the process. They want to reverse a debt-funded spending spree under Babis and cut the budget deficit, as well as improve relations with the EU following years of clashes over the billionaire’s conflicts of interest related to his business empire.
The head of the upper house of parliament, Milos Vystrcil, said Friday no formal moves are needed from the president before the new parliament convenes on Nov. 8. If it remains unclear whether Zeman can perform his duties after that date, the Senate may initiate a procedure to strip him of his powers, Vystrcil said.
“If the situation remains the same, and unclear, after Nov. 8, activating the article 66 is a realistic option,” Vystrcil said, referring to the clause of the constitution about splitting the president’s key powers between the the prime minister and the speaker of the lower house of parliament.
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