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Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s populist party loses grip on power in nail-bitingly close election

Andrej Babiš’s ANO party was edged up by the narrowest of margins by the two opposition coalitions trying to unseat him, according to the Czech Statistical Office.

With 98.84% of votes counted, the center-right alliance Spolu (Together) leads the count with 27.58% of the ballots, followed by Babiš’s ANO party with 27.32%, and the centrist PirStan coalition with 14.45%.

Spolu and PirStan are likely to secure a majority of seats in parliament, which would allow them to form government without Babiš’s ANO party. The Spolu coalition led by Petr Fiala.

The leader of the PirStan coalition, Ivan Bartos, said talks with Spolu “on the possibilities of forming a new government” will likely begin on Saturday.

“The dominance of Andrej Babiš is over, and the democratic parties have shown that the era of chaos will probably be behind us,” Bartos said.

Opinion polls prior to the election showed ANO with a clear lead but with no obvious path to a majority in the 200-seat lower house. The centrist opposition coalitions have expressed a willingness to cooperate to remove Babis and his party.

The results do not give Babiš’s ANO party a clear path to parliamentary majority, and it is possible the country’s new prime minister could come from the joined-up coalitions.

But complicating matters further, President Miloš Zeman, who has thrown his support behind ANO and Babiš, said he would ask the single party with the most votes to try to form a government, even if there is no clear path to a majority.

A new government would also distance the Czech Republic from populist parties in Hungary and Poland, which have increasingly come under fire for rolling back European Union democratic values.

During the election, Babiš, once dubbed the “Czech Trump” by some local media outlets because of his vast business empire and populist leanings, campaigned heavily on an anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic platform.

The 67-year-old business tycoon also faced challenges from opposition parties over his financial dealings, which they claimed represented a conflict of interest.

Pandora’s box of scandals

The tight election also comes just days after a Pandora Papers investigation into controversial financial dealings by Babiš and other world leaders. The report claimed the Czech prime minister secretly moved $22 million through offshore companies to purchase an estate on the French Riviera in 2009, before he entered politics.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Pandora Papers

Responding on Twitter, Babiš wrote: “There is no case that they can pull against me during the time I am in politics.

“I have never done anything unlawful or bad, but it does not stop them to try to slander me again and to try to influence Czech parliamentary elections,” he added.

A businessman who is worth about $3.4 billion, according to Bloomberg, Babiš has railed against the elite since he became prime minister in 2017, vowing to crack down on tax avoidance.

But his premiership has been dogged by long-standing allegations of financial impropriety.

In 2019, tens of thousands of Czechs took to the streets in some of the biggest protests since the 1989 revolution over Babiš’s financial affairs and other issues.
As the owner of the Agrofert conglomerate of food, chemicals and media companies, Babiš was one of the richest business tycoons in the Czech Republic. In 2017, he placed the business into a trust, as required by law in order to remain in his post as finance minister. He became prime minister later that year.
But a European Commission audit later found Babiš breached conflict of interest rules over his control of trust funds linked to Agrofert.

Babiš rejected the findings, saying the audit was “manipulated and artificially induced by professional snitches” from the ranks of opposition parties.

CNN Prima’s John Mastrini reported from Prague, CNN’s Sheena McKenzie wrote in London. Rob Iddiols, Vasco Cotovio and Ivana Kottasová contributed to this report

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