Analyst: Babiš’s coalition government “more stable than it seems”

Jiří Pehe, photo: Luboš Vedral, Czech Radio

Nine months after the general elections, the Czech Republic finally has a government – albeit a minority cabinet that is still short one minister, and, far more controversially, the first since 1989 to cooperate with the Communists.

Andrej Babiš  (in the middle),  photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal
In the early hours of Thursday, following at times bitter exchanges, the lower house of parliament backed the minority cabinet led by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, by a vote of 105 to 91, with four MPs abstaining.

Mr Babiš’s centrist ANO party handily won the October general election, but many parties refused to work with the Slovak-born billionaire, who faces charges for allegedly misappropriating EU funds and is alleged to have been an agent of Czechoslovakia’s communist-era police, the StB.

Six months after his first minority government lost a confidence vote, he has forged a coalition with the Social Democrats, granting them key cabinet posts and various concessions. But together, they have only 93 seats in the 200-member parliament, so Mr Babiš had to rely on the backing of the Communists.

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio
Just how viable is this new government – the first since 1989 to cooperate with the staunchly pro-Russian and anti-NATO Communists? I put that question to political analyst Jiří Pehe.

“Well. I think this government is more stable than it seems because Mr Babiš can play the game of divide and rule. He doesn’t even need the Communist Party so much anymore because it’s difficult to imagine that other parties would join the Communists if for example they asked for a vote of no-confidence. He knows that the opposition is divided, and he will play the opposition, or various parts of it, against each other. So, in terms of its survival, I think the government will be quite stable.”

Do you suppose the Communists will be satisfied with the policy concessions they have already obtained, such as guarantees that the minimum wage rises with inflation or churches pay tax on property returned in restitution?

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
“Yes, I think that the Communists will basically be satisfied because they attempted to get more concessions during negotiations with Andrej Babiš but didn’t really succeed. This was mainly in the area of security and foreign policy. They really didn’t get too far because he refused to make any concessions on EU membership, NATO, and specifically on a referendum that would allow people to vote on the Czech Republic’s membership in international organisations.”

Social Democrats Milan Chovanec, a former interior minister, excused himself from the vote, saying he couldn’t support a Communist-backed government. How significant was this move? Could it signal wider dissent, leading to some MPs to defect or becoming independents?

“Well, I think that Mr Chovanec might have had two main reasons for not supporting the government. One is that his personal experience with Mr Babiš was quite unpleasant. They were in the same government and clashed repeatedly. And Mr Chovanec warned the Social Democrats against going into a coalition with him again. The second reason may be that he is looking to be in a better position if this government falls apart. It is quite possible that the Social Democrats and ANO will not see eye to eye, and Mr Chovanec will be in a good position to challenge the current leadership.”