Czech politics in doubt with president in hospital

Prague (AFP) –

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Czech politics was thrown into uncertainty Monday with the president spending a second day in intensive care and his chief ally, the outgoing billionaire prime minister, defeated in a general election.

Andrej Babis's populist ANO (YES) party narrowly lost at weekend to a three-party centre-right alliance called Together and led by right-winger Petr Fiala.

Babis' defeat came as he faces charges over EU subsidy fraud and after the Pandora Papers investigation this month showed he had used money from his offshore firms to purchase overseas property, including a chateau on the French Riviera.

President Milos Zeman needs to convene parliament within 30 days of the election and name the next prime minister under the Czech constitution, besides mediating talks on the new government.

On Sunday, he had a brief meeting with Babis, but was then rushed to Prague's military hospital from his residence. Local media say that he is suffering from liver problems.

Zeman's doctor told reporters the president was in intensive care. Local media reported that he was in a stable condition.

The Pandora Papers investigation undermined Czech PM Andrej Babis (R) in the final stretch of the election campaign
The Pandora Papers investigation undermined Czech PM Andrej Babis (R) in the final stretch of the election campaign JOE KLAMAR AFP/File

Images of the 77-year-old head of state being taken out of an ambulance with his head supported have cast doubt on his ability to lead talks on forming the next government.

"Tell us what is going on with Zeman!" shrieked a headline on the website of the Blesk tabloid. The hospital and Zeman's spokesman stayed silent Monday.

- Fiala 'must act fast' -

"I would be happy with basic information," independent political analyst Jan Kubacek told AFP.

"If they say he'll stay for weeks, we will roughly know what is happening and the situation will calm down."

Fiala's Together won 108 seats in the 200-seat parliament together with an alliance of the liberal Pirates and the centrist Mayors and Independents, which looks set to oust Babis from power.

But Zeman said earlier he would tap the leader of a party, not an alliance, to form the next government, suggesting his old political ally Babis would go first.

The incoming Czech parliament, according to election results from the Czech Statistical Office.
The incoming Czech parliament, according to election results from the Czech Statistical Office. AFP

An EU and NATO member of 10.7 million people, the ex-communist Czech Republic has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Its economy largely depends on car production and exports to the eurozone, which it has yet to join.

Babis, a food, chemicals and media mogul, is facing EU anger over his conflict of interest as a politician and entrepreneur, as well as charges over EU subsidy fraud.

"If Fiala wants to be perceived as the prime minister by the broad public, he has to start acting like a prime minister," said Kubacek.

"He must act fast, build the government team and draft the policy statement. The more ready he will be when he meets the president, the more likely he is to succeed," the analyst said.