Social Democrats tight-lipped after talks on renewing negotiations with ANO

Jan Hamáček, photo: CTK

Representatives from ANO and the Social Democratic Party met on Monday to discuss the possibility of renewing talks on forming a viable government. The prime minister in resignation Andrej Babiš is pushing for a minority government between ANO and the Social Democrats; the question is whether ANO made the latter an offer they could accept this time.

Jan Hamáček, photo: CTK
Czech politicians are waiting for the outcome of dealings between ANO, the party which won the election last October, and the Social Democrats on forming a successful coalition. After all, the government in resignation has been in power for well over 100 days and the prime minister has had weeks to get to “Yes”, dealing with different parties in Parliament and no doubt weighing the possibilities.

The problem is that for Prime Minister Andrej Babis there are no easy options: despite winning the election by a wide margin, ANO still have only 78 seats, well short of a majority in the 200-member lower house. The math has seen ANO approach right-wing parties such as the Civic Democrats, only to be rejected, the Communists for tacit support, and others in the lower house. But after ANO rejected the possibility of working with Tomio Okamura’s anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (going against President Miloš Zeman’s recommendation) the only option seemingly left was to return to the table and presumably make a better offer to the Social Democrats.

Prime Minister Babiš seemed to suggest that after talks between the two first collapsed some 10 days ago, this time reaching an agreement could be quick. Here’s what he said ahead of the meeting on Monday:

“We need to know by next Friday that there is some kind of preliminary agreement. I, above all, want to get this done. I want to ask the lower house for a vote of confidence and that means reaching a deal on the different government portfolios.”

That was reportedly the rub the last time around: mentioned in the media were two key ministries: finance, which Mr Babiš, as prime minister and also former finance minister most likely wants ANO to retain, and the Ministry of the Interior, which last time ANO reportedly did not want to give up. The Social Democrats headed the latter in the last government and were said to be seeking the post as a requirement for entering a government which included the prime minister as he is facing criminal charges for alleged EU subsidy fraud.

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK
Whether the offer by ANO in what proved to be a two-hour meeting on Monday moved the needle, remains to be seen. After the meeting, Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček was tight-lipped, revealing only the scantest of details.

“ANO presented under which conditions it wanted renewed negotiations on a government coalition to continue. The first to hear the details of the offer will be members of the Social Democratic Party’s top leadership. It will be up to members to decide whether we will accept the offer or not.”

The Social Democrats’ top representation includes Mr Hamáček himself; but the speed with which the question is being approached may not be to the prime minister’s liking: they will only meet by the end of the work week, when Mr Babiš already wanted a commitment moving forward.

Only two outcomes are considered likely at this point: either cooperation with the Social Democrats with tacit support from the Communists, or a minority government of ANO alone, supported tacitly by the Communists and also Freedom and Direct Democracy; support from either of the two will come with strings attached and some influential members of ANO in the past made clear already they had no intention of being in a government backed by Mr Okamura.