June 24, 2018 / 12:52 PM / 5 months ago

Czech president set to appoint new government in coming days

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech president Milos Zeman said on Sunday he may appoint a new two-party cabinet on Tuesday or Wednesday following eight months of political instability after last October’s election.

Czech President Milos Zeman arrives to appoint Andrej Babis as the country's Prime Minister at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, June 6, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, leader of the centrist ANO party, has negotiated a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats, and the path to forming a cabinet opened on Friday after a compromise on personnel.

Zeman told daily Blesk in an online interview that he saw no reason for delay after meeting ministerial candidates on Monday.

The last hurdle to forming a government was Zeman’s rejection of Social Democrat candidate Miroslav Poche for foreign minister, saying he was not sufficiently opposed to accepting migrants. The seat may remain unfilled temporarily.

The government would have just 93 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament and would have to rely on support from deputies from the far-left, pro-Russian Communist Party to survive a vote of confidence every new administration must call within a month of its appointment.

The Communists, who have had no share on national level power since the end of their rule in 1989, have indicated they would support the cabinet but are yet to make a final decision.

Babis, a billionaire businessman, has declared himself as pro-EU and rejected Communist demands for reducing the NATO country’s participation in foreign military missions.

The government’s weakness in parliament will however mean it will need to listen to the Communists who mostly share the president’s pro-Moscow and pro-China views.

Under Babis, the Czech Republic will also remain among the EU’s most anti-immigration countries, refusing to take in asylum seekers who arrive in other EU member states such as Italy.

Babis’s ANO movement had initially sought to form a more centre-right government but most mainstream parties rejected joining an administration led by Babis. His current one-party cabinet lost a vote of confidence in January and has since ruled in a caretaker capacity.

He faces fraud charges over tapping a 2 million euro ($2.3 million) EU subsidy which police say he was not entitled to. He denies any wrongdoing.

Babis is among the richest Czechs after building an empire in farming, chemicals, food production and media that receives subsidies and has numerous business interactions with the state.

He transferred his firm, Agrofert, to trust funds to meet legislative requirements but rivals say he still has conflicts of interest as beneficiary of the funds.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Keith Weir

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