Zeman will give ANO leader second attempt at forming gov’t regardless of presidential result

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTK

ANO leader Andrej Babiš will get a second chance to form a government, irrespective of who wins the upcoming presidential election. Incumbent Miloš Zeman made the comment in a debate program on TV Barrandov on Monday in which an empty chair stood in for his challenger, Jiří Drahoš.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Many election watchers will remember actor Clint Eastwood’s famous “dialogue” with an empty chair at the 2012 Republican Party convention in the United States: the chair represented Barack Obama then seeking re-election to his country’s highest office.

Twice now, Czech viewers have seen something similar: an empty chair representing former Academy of Sciences head Jiří Drahoš. The reason? The challenger in the upcoming runoff agreed to face the incumbent in only two TV debates, not four, honouring the president’s original observation that more than two would be “boring”.

Then Mr Zeman changed his mind.

Twice he has now appeared on programs facing only a moderator. On Tuesday evening, viewers will finally be able to see the two candidates face off for the first time. Both camps will want to shake things up in what is expected to be a very close runoff in which both the president and the challenger have said “every vote will count”. On Monday, Mr Zeman spoke as a lone candidate on TV Barrandov and was able to fire a shot or two across the bow: he indicated that even if Mr Drahoš won the election, for example, the latter would be powerless to name the next prime minister.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
Mr Zeman made clear he would give ANO leader Andrej Babiš a second chance to form a government whether he wins or loses the presidential elections taking place on Friday and Saturday. The incumbent explained that he had plenty of time, given his first term officially ends on March 8.

Mr Babiš is currently charged by the police with subsidy fraud but his ANO party won last October’s elections to the lower house. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing but the allegations perhaps did hurt him politically, making ANO less than a viable partner to form a majority government. His first attempt at forming the next government hit a wall last week.

Here’s what the president said on TV Barrandov on Monday:

“If I win, Mr Babiš will actually have things worse, Because I will wait one, two or even three months until he brings me proof he can find [a 101-vote majority] in the lower house. The result will be the same: sooner or later, Mr Babiš will be the country’s prime minister.”

Challenger Jiří Drahoš has expressed reservations about the choice of Mr Babiš as premier and has said that if he were president, he would advise the billionaire turned politician not to seek the top office. If Mr Drahoš does win and Babiś is already prime minister, a new relationship would have to be forged.

Jiří Drahoš with his wife,  photo: CTK
Mr Babiš, meanwhile, has made no secret who he will be voting for in the second round, a move echoed by the top leadership of ANO on Monday. Deputy leader Jaroslav Faltýnek told Czech Radio more.

“We consider President Zeman to be a very experienced politician who was present during many historic moments such as our joining NATO, who has long pushed national interests and has fought against illegal migration.”

There is no doubt that these factors and who is a better fit to represent the country moving forward will be topics broached in Tuesday’s evening’s first head-to-head debate on commercial broadcaster TV Prima. A second debate, on public broadcaster Czech TV, takes place on Thursday night.