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Czech parliament picks speaker, opens way for new prime minister
November 22, 2017 / 4:04 PM / 23 days ago

Czech parliament picks speaker, opens way for new prime minister

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic’s newly elected lower house of parliament picked a speaker from ANO, the largest party in the house, on Wednesday, opening the way for the government to resign and ANO leader Andrej Babis to become prime minister.

Babis’s party won an October election by a large margin on pledges to uproot corruption and streamline the functioning of the state. He has been asked by President Milos Zeman to form a government but has so far failed to find majority support.

Electing the speaker is one of the constitutional conditions for the parliament to conclude its first session. Once the session ends, the outgoing government - led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka - will resign and a new prime minister and eventually a full cabinet can be appointed.

Sobotka has said his cabinet would resign the next working day after the first session, expected to end on Friday.

Delivering a pro-business and anti-immigration message, often bashing Brussels, ANO won 78 out of the 200 seats in the lower house. The rest are scattered among eight other parties.

Babis, the second-richest Czech, worth an estimated $4 billion, has yet to convince any of the other parties to join a coalition with him or support a minority cabinet, his preferred option.

Parties have shunned Babis, who faces a police investigation over alleged fraud. Police have asked parliament to lift his immunity so prosecution can go ahead. Babis denies wrongdoing and says the case is politically motivated..

Once appointed, Babis can hold office for months even if he loses a confidence vote, pending a second attempt to form a government, which Zeman said would again go to Babis.

The new speaker, ANO’s Radek Vondracek, can also play an important role. If the second attempt fails, he will be in charge of appointing the third candidate for prime minister.

PRO-RUSSIAN, ANTI-EU FACTIONS HELP

Vondracek, the only candidate for speaker, received 135 votes in a secret ballot. Debate and committee-position voting beforehand showed likely joint voting by ANO, the far-left Communists and the far-right SPD party. The latter two parties got chairmanships of two committees.

One was the immunity committee, which will make a recommendation on Babis’s immunity; it went to the Communist party.

The anti-EU, anti-NATO and anti-immigrant SPD party has been promised chairmanship of the security committee. Its nominee, Radek Koten, is considered a security risk by some analysts, based on conspiracy theories and pro-Russian material on his Facebook profile.

Babis has said he would not allow any steps, such as a referendum, that could threaten the country’s EU membership and that he would not take SPD into government.

The Communists have said they may help ANO in the confidence vote, but their votes alone would not be enough.

Mainstream parties have so far stuck to their stance of no cooperation with Babis.

Reporting by Robert Muller, editing by Larry King

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