Czech mogul's party okays coalition backed by Communists

Prague (AFP) –


The ANO (YES) movement of populist billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Friday approved a coalition deal with the leftwing CSSD Social Democrats for a minority cabinet with informal Communist backing to guarantee a parliamentary majority.

The CSSD must still approve the coalition deal in a party referendum. Babis said he expected a confidence vote in parliament by the end of June.

"We made an awful lot of compromises... to have this cabinet. We'll see what stance the CSSD will take," said Babis, who was a Communist Party member during the 1980s.

With just 93 seats between them in the 200-member parliament, the possible ANO-CSSD coalition needs the backing of the Communists, who have 15 seats, to secure a majority.

If all goes according to plan, it would be the first time the Communists have a role in government, albeit an informal one, since the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia collapsed in 1989.

Some CSSD party members oppose the coalition deal with Babis, who is charged with EU subsidy fraud.

Addressing concerns that they may torpedo the coalition deal, Babis said Friday an early election could be scheduled for May 2019, along with the European Parliament vote.

Campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, ANO won 78 out of 200 seats in October's general election, but Babis has so far failed to form a coalition as potential partners have shunned him over the criminal charges.

His previous attempt ended with a minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts failing to win a parliamentary confidence vote in January.

Babis then secured the go-ahead for a second attempt from President Milos Zeman, his political ally.

In the meantime, his minority cabinet is allowed to govern as a caretaker administration until a new team is named.

Police have charged Babis, a food, chemicals and media tycoon and the second wealthiest Czech, with alleged EU subsidy fraud to the tune of two million euros ($2.4 million).

The Slovak-born entrepreneur is also dogged by allegations that he once served as a Communist secret police agent. Babis has denied any wrongdoing.