Czech president boosts ANO leader’s hopes of premiership

Andrej Babiš (Foto: Filip Jandourek, Archiv des Tschechischen Rundfunks)

News the police are seeking to lift the parliamentary immunity of ANO leader Andrej Babiš to investigate the so-called Stork’s Nest affair exploded last week just over two months before parliamentary elections. Polls have consistently suggested Babis’ will win those elections. But any suggestion that the investigation will stand in the way of Babiš becoming prime minister have been dismissed by none other than the president himself.

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek
Many questions were raised by last week following the surprise announcement that police were seeking to life the immunity of ANO leader Babiš and the second placed party leader, Jaroslav Faltýnek, over the accusations that European Union funds were fraudulently used for the Stork’s Nest development, an hotel and recreation centre linked to Babiš’ massive agro-chemical firm Agrofert.

While the parliamentary committee dealing with such matters is likely to meet at the end of this week, the lower house will not be able to deal with the police request until the start of September when the election campaign is expected to start in earnest.

Will ANO leader Babiš take a backseat in the election campaign as a result of the police move? Will he stand down as leader temporarily? And would he be eligible to become prime minister if he stayed the campaign course and emerged the election winner?

The response to the last question was answered over the weekend by president Zeman’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček. He made clear in comments to the news server that a possible police investigation overshadowing the ANO leader would not stand in the way of the head of state tasking Babiš with forming a government and becoming prime minister even if he had been charged with fraud.

To put it bluntly, Ovčáček spelled out that October’s election winner will be invited to become prime minister. He added that he expected the president to be subject to a post election campaign for Babiš to be excluded from being prime minister because of the charges that might be hanging over him.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Filip Jandourek
If the head of state’s comments appear to be run of the mill, president Zeman’s previous words and actions cast a somewhat different light on them. Four years ago in June 2013 president Zeman took a very different standpoint when police were at the centre of the scandal that erupted around the then Civic Democrat leader and prime minister Petr Nečas.

Nečas stood down as party leader and prime minister over the scandal over alleged abuse of power, which directly affected him and other members of the party.

In the political chaos that followed President Zeman brushed off the offer of replacement Civic Democrat leader Miroslava Němcová to form a government although she maintained she could muster enough support for a parliamentary majority. Zeman argued that some of the new ministers could end up in custody. Instead, Zeman appointed a caretaker government to run the country until early elections in October.

The president’s latest magnanimous standpoint is one point. Whether party leaders will share the same view if the ANO leader needs to seek support outside his party following an election win is another matter.