Tensions high as lower house meets for constituting session

Lower house of Czech Parliament, photo: CTK

The newly-elected lower house of Parliament is holding its first session on Monday, opening the way for the demise of the old government and the naming of a new prime minister. In view of strong opposition from the traditional parties to an emerging minority government headed by Andrej Babiš, the opposition parties are pushing for the lower house to be able to fully apply its role within the system of checks and balances.

Lower house of Czech Parliament,  photo: CTK
Two hundred MPs assembled in the newly-reconstructed lower house of Parliament on Monday for the traditional swearing in ceremony and the election of the assembly’s chair and deputy chairs. The traditionally easy-going atmosphere of a first session was marked by tension stemming from the ongoing post-election talks on forming a new government in which election winner ANO has a very strong hand.

And, uncharacteristically, even on day one, the moves leading up to a new administration have been more or less marked out by ANO leader Andrej Babiš, whom the president has promised to appoint prime minister. Given the reluctance of other parties to enter into a coalition with him, Babiš is working to put together a minority government with members of his own party and unaffiliated experts. He appears determined to make good on his election victory and govern the country with or without a vote of confidence from the lower house.

“We have to wait for the demise of the present government and then for the president to appoint me prime minister. I am not sure when exactly that will happen, but I want to have a cabinet line-up and the government’s policy programme ready by November 27.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Andrej Babiš is keeping the cabinet-line up under wraps and says he will seek support for his minority government across the political spectrum. So far, only the Communists have indicated that under certain conditions they would be prepared to either support or tolerate such a government. President Zeman has made it clear that Babis will also get a second chance at forming a government and the third chance would automatically go to the new chair of the lower house – a post that is expected to go to ANO’s Radek Vondráček thanks to support from the Communists, Tomio Okamura’s SPD and the Pirates Party. As a result, the opposition parties claim that Babiš is not even looking very hard for support for his minority cabinet, aware that for a certain period of time at least he can govern without it.

A call from TOP 09 leader Miroslav Kalousek for the traditional parties to block the constitution of the new lower house by failing to elect deputies, failed to win support, but four centre- right parties (the Civic Democrats, Mayors and Independents, Christina Democrats and TOP 09) formed a “democratic bloc” to offset what they see as a threat to democracy from the growing influence of the anti-establishment ANO party.

Ivan Bartoš,  photo: Luboš Vedral
However there may be more surprises ahead –since the man expected to be the next prime minister was charged with EU subsidy fraud ahead of the elections and was already once stripped of his immunity which he regained in the polls. Should the police make a similar request of the new lower house it will be up to MPs to decide Mr. Babiš’ fate. The head of the Pirates Party Ivan Bartoš makes no secret of the fact that he sees that as a possible solution to the post-election dilemma.

“We want to make the new assembly operational, to get on with the business at hand and, if it comes to that, open the way for Mr. Babiš’ criminal prosecution. We want the Mandate and Immunity Committee in the hands of the opposition.”