Czech ruling party signals readiness to move to opposition, eventually

Czech PM and leader of ANO party Andrej Babis reacts at the party's election headquarters, in Prague
Czech Prime Minister and leader of ANO party Andrej Babis reacts during a news conference at the party's election headquarters after the country's parliamentary election in Prague, Czech Republic, October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

October 12, 2021

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech ruling ANO party signalled on Tuesday it was ready to move into opposition after two rival coalitions won a combined majority in parliament in last weekend’s election, but it still kept open the option it may have a stab at forming a government.

The central European country faces weeks or months before a new opposition-led government takes power as ANO, which lost the vote by a narrow margin but emerged as the biggest single party, could seek to cobble together a ruling coalition.

But signalling a growing acceptance that the opposition, which won a combined 108 of the lower house’s 200 seats, would prevail, senior ANO lawmaker Jaroslav Faltynek said on Tuesday his party would not try to block the transfer of power and expected to end in opposition.

“We can count to 108” said Faltynek, a key official in ANO. “So we expect we will end up in opposition.”

The situation has been complicated by the health of President Milos Zeman, an ally of ANO Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who appoints governments but was taken into intensive care over the weekend.

His condition is stable, the hospital has said, but no other details on his diagnosis or expected stay have been given.

Babis said on Tuesday that Zeman had reiterated to him, just before being taken to hospital on Sunday, that he would get the first shot at forming a cabinet despite facing the combined opposition majority.

He said he would only say when he gets the mandate from the president whether he would take that shot or not. This represented a softening of his stance from just after the election when he said he would take the chance if given one.

“When the president entrusts me (with forming a government), I will tell you my position,” Babis told reporters in a televised briefing.

He said he was also prepared to sit in opposition.

LENGTHY TRANSFER OF POWER

Zeman, 77, has not made any comment on the next steps since the election.

Two opposition groups, the centre-right Together and the centrist Pirates/Mayors, won a combined 108 seats in the lower house and, refusing to talk with ANO, are starting work on forming a government.

Zbynek Stanjura, a senior lawmaker for Together, said it would be a success to have a new government in place and with a declaration of parliament’s confidence by January.

The new cabinet would end the country’s disputes with the European Commission related to what the EU executive declared to be conflict of interest that Babis had as prime minister and the founder of farming, food, chemicals and media empire Agrofert.

It could also be more fiscally conservative and less friendly with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, whom Babis considers a close friend despite rule of law disputes Hungary has with the EU.

(Reporting by Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet; Editing by Louise Heavens, Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie)