Czech leftwing party returns to coalition talks

Czech leftwing party returns to coalition talks

Prague (AFP) – Czech social democrats said Friday they would return to coalition talks with the ANO movement of billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis who is struggling to clinch a parliamentary majority.

ANO (YES) won 78 out of 200 seats in last October’s general election campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, but Babis, who has been charged with EU subsidy fraud, has so far failed to form a coalition.

Negotiations broke down three weeks ago after the parties — which formed the previous governing coalition together with the small centrist Christian Democrats — were unable to strike a deal on ministerial posts.

“The CSSD has decided to resume negotiations with ANO. This decision, far from easy, does not yet mean that we will enter the government,” party head Jan Hamacek told reporters in Prague on Friday. 

The CSSD said it had dropped earlier talks with ANO over Babis’ indictment with EU subsidy fraud in a case dating back to 2007-2008. 

The food, chemicals and media tycoon has denied any wrongdoing.

Babis said talks failed when he refused to give the CSSD control of the interior ministry. 

He has now put that on the table, along with four other ministries. 

Hamacek said Friday that a Social Democrat as interior minister would “guarantee that the police investigating Babis’s case will not be under pressure and will be able to work in peace”.

But with just 93 parliamentary seats between them, any future ANO-CSSD coalition would still need the informal support of the Communists, who have 15 seats and have said they are willing to cooperate.

Snubbed by potential partners over his murky past, Babis, the second-wealthiest Czech, formed a minority government last autumn, but his team of ANO members and unaffiliated experts failed to win a confidence vote in January and resigned.

It continues to govern until a new cabinet is named.

President Milos Zeman, who was elected to a second five-year term in January, has two attempts to name a prime minister under the constitution, with the third going to the parliament speaker who is an ANO member.