The Czech centre-left government faces potential defeat in a no-confidence motion on Thursday, a vote that may keep the prime minister in office as caretaker until an October election but shift political power to the country’s pro-Russian president.
The opposition blames Prime Minister Andrej Babis for failing the country in the coronavirus pandemic and for breaking conflict of interest rules over his control of trust funds liked to his business empire.
The country has suffered one of the world’s worst per-capita death rates in the pandemic.
Opposition deputies handed in an official request for the vote on Tuesday.
“One reason to give the vote of no-confidence is the confirmed conflict of interests,” said Ivan Bartos, chairman of the opposition Pirate Party, referring to a European Commission audit of trust funds holding Babis’s former business empire.
The key to the vote is that Babis may lose the support of the Communist Party, which has long backed his minority two-party cabinet in a tactic that has handed the prime minister a majority in return for policy concessions.
Communist chairman Vojtech Filip said the government has “completely failed” in foreign policy. He said the government had erred by blaming a 2014 arms depot explosion on Russia, and by banning Belarus’s airline after an opposition blogger was snatched from a plane forced to land in Minsk.
A defeat would mean Babis has to resign, but remains in office in a caretaker role. Zeman has said that given the short time until the election, he would keep Babis in office, which analysts say would give Zeman leverage over the cabinet.
“Despite (the government) looking the same on the outside, the president would be able to change the government with one stroke of a pen,” said political scientist Petr Just.
Babis has had good relations with Zeman but they have differed on building closer relations with China and Russia, which Zeman has promoted. A key issue in this regard is the planned construction of a nuclear power plant by state-controlled CEZ utility.
Photo: Prime Minister Andrej Babis. EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK