President Zeman appointed Andrej Babiš prime minister on Wednesday, giving him a second chance to form a government after his first cabinet failed to win a vote of confidence in the lower house. His chances of success still remain far from certain and thousands of people took to the streets on Tuesday evening to protest against the appointment.
The appointment was made, uncharacteristically, without any guarantees that Babiš can form a viable coalition the second time round. A coalition agreement on a minority government between his ANO Party and the Social Democrats which would be tolerated by the Communists, is subject to a Social Democratic Party referendum, the outcome of which will not be known until mid-June. The cabinet line-up also remains uncertain.
Despite his election victory, Babiš has faced many hurdles in trying to cobble together a viable government, be it left or right of centre. He has been shunned by the right-wing parties over the fact that he faces charges of EU subsidy fraud and in a last ditch effort to put together a working coalition, Babiš offered the Social Democrats a more than generous share of ministerial posts and policy concessions and accepted the terms of the Communist Party in return for their tolerance of his second minority government.
The effort received strong backing from President Zeman who has openly pushed the Social Democrats to accept Babiš’ offer. By appointing Babiš without any guarantees that he has partners in government he is raising the pressure further. The only other potential ally waiting in the wings is the anti-migrant, anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, which is generally viewed as the worst possible scenario for the Czech Republic.
The president wants a government and he wants it fast. He has given Babiš a short time –assuming the referendum result goes in his favour – to present him with a list of candidates for ministerial posts. Andrej Babiš told the media he was ready to meet that demand.
“It will depend on how the president schedules his meetings with the ministerial candidates, but if all goes smoothly and he appoints the cabinet fairly soon, we could ask the lower house for a vote of confidence on July 11th.”
What happens in the event of a thumbs-down from the Social Democrats is not clear. However thousands of people who took to the streets of Prague and other big cities in protest of Babiš’ appointment would doubtless be ready to cheer.
Babiš’ critics have been increasingly vocal in recent weeks, protesting against a prime minister who faces criminal charges and a government which would have to rely on support from the Communist Party.