A nail-biting election count in the Czech Republic has seen populist prime minister Andrej Babis defeated as two opposition coalitions gained a slender parliamentary majority.
The centre-right Spolu (Together) alliance led by Petr Fiala and made up of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Top 09 parties, edged ahead of the ruling ANO party as the last votes were counted, suggesting the end of Mr Babis’s reign at the top of Czech politics.
Spolu took 27.68 per cent of the vote, with ANO on 27.24.
Meanwhile, the Czech Pirate Party and Stan parties, another anti-Babis alliance, took 15.5 per cent of the vote. Together, the two coalitions could command a slender majority of 108 out of 200 seats in the country’s parliament.
Mr Fiala, 57, a former political science lecturer and university rector, said: “We have brought a chance that we will stop getting in debt, that we will remain a part of democratic Europe. Within 24 hours, negotiations will take place with the leaders of the Pirates/Mayors. The results are clear, the democratic opposition won a clear majority.”
Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartos said negotiations on forming a government with Spolu would begin on Saturday evening.
The coalitions refuse to work with Mr Babis over what they say are his unacceptable conflicts of interest related to the business empire he created before entering politics. The opposition has pledged to cut the budget deficit and improve government transparency.
Yet with Czech president Milos Zeman able to exert significant influence – he could ask Mr Babis, 67, to try and form a minority government as ANO is the single biggest party – the election drama may not yet be over.
Only four electoral groups exceeded the 5 per cent threshold for winning seats in parliament, with ANO, Spolu and Pirates and Stan joined by the controversial far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party on just under 10 per cent.
The SPD offered a coalition partnership with ANO as the results became clear – but without support from any other party, their chances of forming a government appear slim.
The Social Democrats and the Communists, both of which won seats in the last election, failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold this time around. Significantly, this is the first time since the fall of communism in the Czech Republic in 1989 that the Communist Party has failed to win any seats in parliament.
Senior ANO minister Karel Havlicek spoke of the need for “humility” in accepting results, which could prove the death knell for Mr Babis’s government.
Yet despite ANO’s defeat, the future of the country is not entirely certain. President Milos Zeman declared prior to the election that he would give the first chance to form a government to the largest individual political party – meaning Mr Babis may be approached with the task before the leaders of the Spolu and Pirates and Stan electoral coalitions.
Yet members of the Spolu coalition argue that the clear parliamentary majority for anti-Babis movements must force the president to change his tune. And as Spolu passed ANO in the final stages of the vote count, the legitimacy of any attempt by Mr Babis to remain in power appeared even more questionable.