Czech President Miloš Zeman gave Prime Minister Andrej Babiš a second chance to form a government on Wednesday, after accepting the resignation of his first minority administration which failed to win a vote of confidence in the lower house. And, in what is seen as pressure on other parties to cooperate, the president said he would appoint Babiš prime minister whether or not he is re-elected for a second term in this weekend’s presidential run-off.
President Miloš Zeman whose presidential term in office expires on March 7th and who faces a tight run-off this weekend, has carefully planned his moves ahead in order to maintain a maximum control of the situation as regards the formation of a future Czech government.
After asking ANO leader Andrej Babiš to make another attempt at forming a government, President Zeman made it explicitly clear that if he lost the presidential election he would prevent the next head of state from interfering in the process. Mr. Zeman said that if he won, Babiš would be given enough time –possibly months - to secure backing for his administration in the lower house of Parliament –if not, he would be appointed before Zeman’s term in office expires, with or without support.
Once appointed Babiš would have 30 days to seek a vote of confidence in the lower house. Should he fail, it will be the Speaker of the lower house –Radek Vondráček from Babiš’ own party- who will have the right to decide who should get the third attempt at forming a cabinet. If that attempt also fails the head of state may initiate the dissolution of the lower house. But the law does not compel him to do so and he could leave the government to govern the country in resignation mode for an unspecified period of time. This would inevitably leave the Czech Republic facing a serious political crisis.
The lower house could break such a deadlock by initiating its own dissolution, but in any case Andrej Babiš says he does not want to rule without a confidence vote and trusts that this time round the negotiations will be different.
“In the first attempt we never really got a chance to negotiate. We faced outright rejections from almost everyone. Now we feel there has been a shift - the character of these negotiations is different from the first attempt when nobody actually expected us to win a confidence vote.”
Despite the upbeat statement, Andrej Babiš’ maneuvering space is limited, primarily by his own person, since he was recently stripped of his immunity and faces charges of EU subsidy fraud. Only the Communist Party has indicated willingness to support a government headed by him, if their conditions are met. The anti-migrant and anti-EU party of Freedom and Direct Democracy, which would also ask a high price for tolerating such a government, is not a partner Babiš wants to take on board. And the possibility of getting backing from the Social Democrats depends on the outcome of their party conference in February. Other options now seem unlikely.
In this tense atmosphere everyone awaits the outcome of this weekend’s presidential elections which will give a pointer as to how the political situation may develop. Babiš’ ANO party has appealed on its supporters to give their vote to the incumbent president.
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