Czech billionaire Babis, fresh off election win, sets out coalition demands

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, the runaway winner of last weekend's parliamentary election, says he wanted to form a governing coalition with a stable partner, and a minority government was an unrealistic plan.

Babis not interested in partnering with far-right SPD, while other parties want Babis to step back

Andrej Babis, leader of the ANO, was the runaway winner of last weekend's parliamentary election in Prague, but his search for government partners is running into trouble. (David W Cerny/Reuters)

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, the runaway winner of last weekend's parliamentary election, said Monday he wanted to form a governing coalition with a stable partner, and a minority government was an unrealistic plan.

Babis's search for government partners is running into trouble. He faces fraud charges — which he denies — that have led other parties to rule out working with him, even though his ANO party got 29.6 per cent of the vote, nearly triple its closest competitor.

The anti-establishment party scored at polls with pledges to clean up corruption and bring a businessman's touch to governance, winning over voters who shunned mainstream parties.

Babis's popularity has grown during his time in the current centre-left government, which has been marked by fast economic growth, a balanced budget, falling unemployment and rising wages.

Babis said after talks with President Milos Zeman at a presidential chateau on Monday that the president would ask him next week to begin leading talks on forming a new cabinet. Traditionally, the president asks the leader of the winning party to lead talks before formally appointing a prime minister.

Babis told reporters he preferred having as few parties as possible in the next government.

"A single-colour government is not realistic ... We want to negotiate a coalition government. We of course prefer a stable partner in government for the whole term."

ANO will control 78 seats in the 200-member lower house.

Babis said a link with the election runner-up, the centre-right Civic Democrat party, made sense based on seats in the lower house – together, the two would have a majority.

The party, though, has refused to co-operate. In other options, more partners would be needed.

Babis's current partners, the leftist Social Democrats of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and the centrist Christian Democrats, have rejected a government with ANO unless it pledges Babis will not be part of it.

Says investigation is politically motivated

Babis said he did not want a government that would include Communists and the anti-EU, anti-immigration SPD party, which surprisingly made a strong showing in the election. His position against a minority government also seemed to rule out seeking their support in a less formal arrangement.

Police are looking at whether Babis, the country's second richest person, hid ownership of a convention centre to receive a $2 million-euro EU subsidy ($2.97 million Cdn) in 2008. He has said the investigation was part of efforts to kick him out of politics.

Opponents see Babis, worth an estimated $4 billion ($5.95 billion), as a danger to democracy, fearing his business and media power could pose conflicts of interest.

Some have referred to him as the "Czech Berlusconi," a reference to Italy's former billionaire premier Silvio Berlusconi. Others consider him a local version of U.S. President Donald Trump. He is known for his slogan "everybody steals" and his resolve to run the state like a company.

After the collapse of communism, Babis established his Agrofert in the middle of the turbulent 1990s, when the country split up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Fearing of a combination of wealth and power, Parliament approved a law that forced Babis to transfer Agrofert, which includes some 250 companies together with two nationwide newspapers and a popular radio among them, to a trust fund.

In another notable case that goes back decades, Babis has failed so far to clear his name of accusations that he collaborated with the Czechoslovak communist-era secret police.

The Slovak-born Babis, who was a member of the Communist Party before the 1989 Velvet Revolution that brought democracy, denies any collaboration.

Like many Czechs, Babis rejects the EU's quota system to redistribute refugees and opposes setting a date for the Czech Republic to adopt the common euro currency.

Babis is also opposed to EU sanctions against Russia for its actions against Ukraine and to the idea of further integration in the 28-nation bloc.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sent a congratulatory letter to Babis, saying that the new government should keep in mind the European Union's common values.

"I wish you all the best for the challenge ahead in terms of forming a stable government that will be able to position the Czech Republic as an important participant in the efforts to make the European Union more united, stronger and more democratic on the basis of our common values," he said.

With files from Associated Press