Bill that could hurt Babiš sparks coalition spat

Photo: ČTK

The Christian Democrats are planning to vote for a conflict of interest bill later this week and the Social Democrats are considering doing likewise. But ANO chief Andrej Babiš warns that if they do back the amendment – which could hit his business interests hard – it may put the future of the three-party alliance in doubt.

Andrej Babiš, Bohuslav Sobotka and Pavel Bělobrádek, photo: ČTK
MPs are due to vote this week on a government conflict of interest bill. However, an amendment attached to it by an opposition TOP 09 deputy has made the issue a political hot potato.

Under the proposal, people with large stakes in companies would be barred from becoming ministers, while firms more than 10-percent owned by cabinet members would not be allowed to enter public tenders.

This would be particularly problematic for ANO chief and finance minister Andrej Babiš, who owns the huge Agrofert group.

Ivo Valenta, photo: YouTube
Junior coalition partners the Christian Democrats are planning to support the bill. Leader Pavel Bělobrádek explains why.

“This is completely normal in civilised countries. I don’t see why the minister of agriculture had to cease his business activities because he was self-employed, while the second- or third-richest person in the country can just carry on. Just like Mr. Valenta and many others.”

Mr. Valenta is Ivo Valenta, a senator who owns a large betting company, while the agriculture minister is Marian Jurečka, Mr. Bělobrádek’s party colleague.

For his part, Mr. Babiš says coalition support for legislation evidently targeted at him would raise questions over the future of the alliance. And, he asks, why now?

Photo: hywards, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“They knew who I was and what I was when we were negotiating the coalition and they didn’t have a problem with it. I don’t know why it’s become a problem now. Maybe they’ve just discovered we’re not the right partners in various, arbitrary matters. Otherwise, I can’t explain it.”

But Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats says things have changed since the coalition deal was signed over two years ago.

“To be frank, the number of billionaires entering politics is growing. It’s not just Andrej Babiš. There’s also Mr. Valenta. Others could come along after the next elections. I think it’s important that we have clear, transparent rules, that there is a clear division between politics and business and that it isn’t possible to mix political, business and media interests.”

“The state is not a firm”, photo: Archives of the Social Democrats
However the vote goes, the spat seems unlikely to bring the government down.

It comes as the Social Democrats launched billboards declaring “the state is not a firm”– a reference to the “management” rhetoric that helped ANO’s rise to become the second biggest party in the last elections.

The posters are part of campaigning for regional and Senate elections later this year and with ANO and the Social Democrats the front runners in the opinion polls, we may well see more coalition clashes in the not so distant future.