Thousands rally against Czech government across country

A protester holds a placard reading "An STB(state secret security police) agent being Prime minister? Shame!" during a rally against the outgoing cabinet led by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on April 9, 2018 in Prague
AFP

Prague (AFP) – Thousands of protesters rallied across the Czech Republic Monday against the outgoing cabinet led by the second wealthiest Czech, Andrej Babis, a billionaire with a murky past.

“We’ve had enough,” chanted a crowd of about 5,000 in Prague’s central Wenceslas Square while other protesters gathered in other cities across the EU member country of 10.6 million people.

“We want a decent government,” they shouted.

Babis’s ANO (YES) movement won a general election last October. securing 78 seats in the 200-member parliament after an anti-corruption campaign, but the food, chemicals and media tycoon has failed to put together a majority administration.

He came up with a minority government of ANO members and unaffiliated experts but failed to win parliamentary confidence in January and the cabinet resigned, although it will remain in office until a new team is named.

Potential political partners have turned their backs on Babis, who is facing police charges over an EU subsidy fraud and allegations that he had served as a Communist secret police agent before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

“It is unacceptable to have a prosecuted man and a registered Communist secret police agent as prime minister,” the organisers of the protest said on Facebook, calling on Babis to step down.

“It’s plain and simple — I’m here because I don’t want a Communist agent for prime minister,” young Prague construction worker Jaroslav Pospichal told AFP at the rally.

Babis’s final attempt at forming a cabinet failed last week after the leftwing Social Democrats, who led the previous Czech government with ANO as a junior partner, snubbed him over personnel issues, raising the possibility of early elections.

The Slovak-born chemical, food and media tycoon is facing criminal charges over alleged 2007 EU subsidy fraud to the tune of two million euros ($2.5 million) linked to his sprawling Agrofert holding company.

He has flatly denied any wrongdoing and insists the case is politically motivated.

The man in the spotlight now is President Milos Zeman, a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim veteran leftwinger and Babis’s ally, who is due to meet Babis on Tuesday.

Zeman, who was elected to a second five-year term in January, has two attempts to name a prime minister under the constitution.

Since Zeman has now merely asked Babis to form a new cabinet and has not officially appointed him prime minister, he could still tap someone else to assemble a government.

Czech media have mentioned Richard Brabec, a deputy prime minister and environment minister from ANO, as a likely candidate.

ANO would be expected to win a snap vote by a broad margin, although the latest poll by the Kantar TNS agency for Czech Television saw its support drop to 29.5 percent in March.

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