Outgoing Czech PM not ruling out early elections

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is making a second attempt to form a new government after his minority government failed to win a vote of confidence in the lower house, has said that if his second attempt fails he would push for early elections. His potential partners have accused him of applying pressure tactics ahead of the second round of talks.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Just two weeks ago Andrej Babiš seemed confident about his chances of forming a viable government, telling journalists the mood had changed and potential partners appeared ready for serious negotiations. Now he has increasingly started talking about the possibility of early elections, despite the fact that under Czech law the Speaker of the lower house, who is also from Babiš’ ANO party, would get the third chance to name a prime minister designate. In an interview for Czech Radio at the weekend, Babiš said he would not favour a third round of talks.

“I do not like the idea of early elections myself, but I honestly do not think that people would want us to lose another six months in futile talks.”

The other parties in the lower house, some of whom are cautiously testing the ground regarding the possibility of entering into a coalition government with ANO, supporting or tolerating such a cabinet reacted with anger, accusing the outgoing prime minister of using the threat of early elections as a whip to secure a faster and better deal.

The Social Democrats who are seen as a potential coalition partner and who are due to hold a decisive party conference on February 18, say the message is clearly intended for them. Milan Chovanec is the party’s acting acting chairman.

“It is a thinly-veiled threat to the parties who are not eager to have new elections so soon. Babiš is aware of this and this is his way of putting pressure on his partners, increasing their motivation to reach a deal.”

The Social Democrats are seen as one of the parties which would not benefit from early general elections. Although they led the last coalition government they were unable to capitalize on the country’s good economic results and did extremely poorly in October’s general elections getting a mere 7.2 percent of the vote. The party is to elect a new leadership on Feb 18 and needs time to consolidate itself ahead of a new test of strength. The decision as to whether to enter into a coalition or support a government formed by Babiš will have to be made at the upcoming party conference.

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Martin Svozílek
Two of the contestants for the top post offer different visions. Acting chairman Milan Chovanec says that the Social Democrats should not enter or support a government led by a prime minister who faces charges of EU subsidy fraud. His rival for the post, deputy chair Jan Hamáček has indicated he would be willing to accept Babiš’ presence in the government.

The Communists are also negotiating the possibility of supporting a Babiš-led government so the ANO leader has every reason to apply the carrot and stick approach – the stick in the form of early elections, the carrot in the form of ministerial and other hot seats offered. And, should it come to early elections, the ANO leader is hoping that voters –tired of futile negotiations - will give his party sufficient support for him to form a majority government.