Together opposition coalition wins Czech Republic election

The Together coalition narrowly overtook Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s ANO party with 99% of voting districts already reporting.

Leader of Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and Together (SPOLU) coalition candidate for prime minister, Petr Fiala, gestures next to leader of KDU-CSL Marian Jurecka and leader of TOP 09 party Marketa Pekarova Adamova, at the party’s election headquarters, in Prague, Czech Republic, October 9, 2021. (Reuters)

The two main Czech opposition groups have secured a majority in a parliamentary election and will have a chance to form a government, Petr Fiala, the leader of the centre-right Together coalition, said on Saturday.

With the votes from 99.7% of the ballot stations counted, the Czech Statistics Office said Together, a liberal-conservative three-party coalition, captured 27.7% of the vote, beating Babis’ ANO (Yes) party, which won 27.2%.

In another blow to the country’s populists, another center-left liberal coalition of the Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors, received 15.5% of the vote to finish third, the statistics office reported.

The two coalitions have enough support together to create a new government.

Babis held an earlier lead, despite widespread accusations of financial impropriety and just a week after he was named in the Pandora Papers investigation.

With most of the almost all ballots counted, turnout had reached nearly 65 percent, up from 60.84 percent in the previous general election in 2017.

The 67-year-old Babis, a food, chemicals and media mogul, is facing police charges over alleged EU subsidy fraud and the bloc’s dismay over his conflict of interest as a businessman and a politician.

Last weekend, the Pandora Papers investigation showed he had used money from his offshore firms to finance the purchase of property in southern France in 2009, including a chateau.

He has denied any wrongdoing and slammed the allegations as a smear campaign.

The Czech economy, heavily dependent on car production and exports to the eurozone which the EU member of 10.7 million is yet to join, is on the mend after the Covid-19lockdowns.

But the pandemic and increases in pensions and public sector wages, recently approved by Babis’s cabinet, have made the public finance gap soar.

Babis led a minority government with the left-wing Social Democrats, which was until recently tacitly backed by the Communist Party that ruled the former totalitarian Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989.

But The Communists were ousted from parliament at the polls for the first time since World War II, scoring less than four percent according to the preliminary results, thus failing to meet the five-percent threshold for any party to enter parliament.

It will be up to the pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, to tap the new prime minister.

But Zeman is grappling with health problems that have confined him to his residence for the vote as local media speculate he may struggle to even nominate the prime minister.

The “Pandora Papers” investigation involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC and The Guardian is based on a leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.

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