Czech Republic to get PM by mid-June, government less certain

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

In an exclusive interview for Czech Television, President Miloš Zeman on Monday announced his intention to appoint ANO leader Andrej Babiš prime minister for a second time, even before the outcome of a referendum on whether the Social Democrats will enter into a coalition with his party. Although the move was expected, its timing is seen as heightened pressure from the head of state for the parties to deliver what he considers “the only viable scenario” in government talks.

Miloš Zeman, photo: ČTK/Deml Ondřej
President Zeman has made no secret of his preference regarding the set-up of the next government and has used his presidential powers to the limit and beyond to push the respective parties in the “right” direction.

After watching the ANO leader struggle to find partners who would be willing to accept his presence at the head of government, despite the fact that he is charged with EU subsidy fraud, and seeing his first one-party minority government fail to win a confidence vote in the lower house, the president is pushing to secure a coalition of ANO and the Social Democrats with backing from the Communist Party. He told Czech Television on Monday that his decision to appoint Babiš prime minister ahead of the party’s referendum, was a message not only to the Social Democrats, whom, he has urged to accept the deal, but to Babis himself, for him to speed up the process of forming a new government. Mr. Zeman said he expected to get a ministerial line-up from Babis by the end of June.

He said that should the deal between ANO and the Social Democrats fail, he had a Plan B ready. Although he failed to disclose what that was, he made it clear it was not early elections. So what is the underlying message the head of state sent the Social Democrats? Political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“By the suggesting that he has a Plan B I think he is telling the Social Democrats that they had better vote “yes” in their referendum, otherwise there would be a different government, most probably a government of Mr. Babiš’ ANO party relying on support from the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party and the Communists.”

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek
Indicating readiness to open the door to the anti-migrant, anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy Party is a card that Mr. Zeman has played before, most recently when the Social Democrats briefly withdrew from the coalition talks, only to return a few days later.

Social Democrat MP Kateřina Valachová told Czech Radio that the message from the president is clear.

“Of course I perceive this as pressure on us, pressure for us to cooperate in creating a viable government capable of winning a confidence vote in the lower house. It would have been nice if the president had waited for the result of our referendum, but I do not think it will influence the outcome of the vote.”

Even with the president’s Plan B in mind, the Social Democrats remain deeply divided as to whether to enter into a coalition led by a politician charged with EU subsidy fraud and one that would have to rely on support from the Communist Party. So while it is clear that the Czech Republic will have a prime minister by mid-June, the prospect of getting a viable government is far less certain.