Czech tycoon gets second shot at government

Cabinet comprises ten members of Babis’s populist ANO movement and five Social Democrats, but a confidence vote on the new cabinet looms

Prague: The Czech president appointed the second cabinet of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis in six months on Wednesday, betting that a coalition with the Social Democrats and informal backing from the Communists would provide a parliamentary majority.

“Our government will fight for the safety of our citizens, especially against illegal migration and to protect our interests in Europe,” Babis said during the ceremony in Prague with President Milos Zeman.

“Our government will also fight against corruption, waste and bureaucracy,” Babis vowed.

The cabinet comprises ten members of Babis’s populist ANO (Yes) movement and five Social Democrats (CSSD), but a parliamentary confidence vote on the new cabinet expected on July 11 could still fail.

ANO won 78 seats in the 200-member parliament campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket in the October 2017 election, but Babis has struggled to form a coalition.

The mogul struck a deal with the 15-seat CSSD earlier this month but to secure a parliamentary majority, Babis — a former communist — needs to rely on backing from the 15-seat KSCM Communist Party.

The party has signalled it will support him in exchange for positions in large state-owned enterprises but will take a final decision on backing Babis on Saturday.

Its agreement could give the staunchly pro-Russian party a role in government, albeit an informal one, for the first time since the collapse of the communist regime in the 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia.

The Social Democrats are in turn upset by the failure of their candidate, European lawmaker Miroslav Poche, to take the foreign minister’s seat.

The pro-Russian, anti-migrant President Zeman refused to name Poche over corruption allegations from the past and Poche’s tolerant stance on migrants.

Following his election victory, Babis has struggled to form a coalition as potential partners snubbed him over his Communist past and criminal charges he is facing for alleged fraud.

His first attempt at forming a cabinet ended in January when his minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts failed to garner enough support in parliament.

But the cabinet was allowed to continue governing in a caretaker capacity.

On June 6, the Czech president tapped Babis as prime minister for the second time.

Police have charged Babis — a food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech — with EU subsidy fraud to the tune of €2 million (Dh8.5 million or $2.4 million).

The Slovak-born entrepreneur has also been dogged by allegations he served as a Communist secret police agent before 1989. Babis has denied any wrongdoing.

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