World News

Czech Republic Faces Political Turmoil After No-Confidence Vote

Posted January 16, 2018 1:14 p.m. EST

PRAGUE — The Czech Parliament rejected the minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis in a no-confidence vote Tuesday, a move that is likely to prompt weeks, if not months, of further political wrangling.

In the meantime, the minority Cabinet, made up of members of Babis’ party and affiliated experts, will continue to lead the country while Babis attempts to form another Cabinet that would be acceptable to Parliament.

In Eastern Europe, resentment of Brussels and resistance to immigration have helped propel populist parties to power in several countries, notably Hungary and Poland. But the rise of the right there, in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia has also been driven by a variety of domestic issues.

Babis, a billionaire anti-establishment candidate who vowed during the campaign to fight corruption and introduce economic overhauls, is a polarizing figure. His political positions are hard to pin down, but they are tinged with populist rhetoric.

The Ano party of Babis won elections in October, gaining almost 30 percent of vote. The president, Milos Zeman, appointed him prime minister in early December. Since then, however, Babis has failed to form a coalition that would command a majority in Parliament.

Zeman himself is currently in a battle for his own job. The first round of presidential elections took place Friday and Saturday, and even though he finished in first place, he will face the runner-up, Jiri Drahos, in a runoff starting Jan. 26 because he failed to receive more than 50 percent of the vote in the field of nine.

As Babis’ political rise gathered pace, he became the target of an investigation into possible tax crimes during his time as finance minister in the previous governing coalition. In October, he was indicted on charges of misusing European Union subsidies. Babis has called the charges politically motivated.

Babis has denied any wrongdoing, but Parliament is considering a measure that would strip him of his immunity as an elected official, allowing for a criminal prosecution.

As those concerns swirled during the campaign, several rival parties vowed not to form a government with Ano, saying that Babis’ upstart party posed a threat to democracy and that Babis was an unacceptable choice to run the country.

“No serious negotiations were held, and now it is time to issue the bill,” Jan Hamacek, vice chairman of the lower house and a lawmaker with the Czech Social Democratic Party, wrote on Twitter last week, referring to the lack of talks to build a coalition.

Only lawmakers from the Ano party voted for the government, despite support from Zeman, the president, who is considered an ally of Babis. “I believe the program of this government is, in a good sense, like a smorgasbord: Anybody can choose what they like,” Zeman told Parliament last week.

The Czech Republic has previously been run by minority governments lacking the majority support of Parliament. But the controversy surrounding Babis and the possibility of a future Cabinet being forged with the support of an extreme-right party, Freedom and Direct Democracy, or with the Communist Party — or both — complicates the current impasse.

“There are many mathematical possibilities to form a majority government, but somebody will have to let go of their requirements, and I am afraid that at least Mr. Babis and President Zeman will not budge,” said Otto Eibl, a political analyst from Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

Babis said he had been expecting to lose the vote Tuesday. “We want to talk about our program, mainly about pensions,” he said in remarks last week quoted by the Czech News Agency, referring to the direction his government would now take.

Zeman said he would give Babis another chance to form a government, but he added that at least 101 votes — a majority — would be needed in the lower chamber to reappoint Babis as prime minister.