PRAGUE (AP) – Czechs start voting on Friday in a parliamentary election with polls showing Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a populist billionaire, has a good chance of keeping his job despite a new scandal over his financial transactions.
Two voting days are organized to fill 200 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the main legislative body of the Eastern European country, a member of the European Union and NATO.
Eurosceptic Babis, 67, has had a turbulent tenure with numerous scandals. Among them, police recommended that he be charged with alleged fraud involving EU grants, and a recently released EU report concluded that Babis had a conflict of interest over the bloc’s grants involving his former business empire.
However, all the polls favor his centrist movement ANO (YES) to come out on top with at least 25% of the vote. But it is not clear whether Babis will win enough to be able to form a new coalition government.
The latest scandal tied Babis to offshore accounts.
The findings of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, dubbed the “Pandora Papers”, alleged that Babis had invested $ 22 million in shell companies to buy 16 properties in the south of France. The Pandora Papers presented details of how many of the richest and most powerful people in the world are said to have hidden their wealth from tax collectors.
The French properties were not disclosed in the prime minister’s required asset declarations, according to documents obtained by the Czech partner of the journalism group. Babis has denied any wrongdoing and says the recent report was aimed at harming him in the election.
Babis led a minority coalition government of the ANO and left-wing Social Democrats. He also ruled with the support of the Communists, who oppose the country’s membership in NATO and thus gained an indirect share in the management of the country for the first time since the collapse of the bloc. Is ruled by the Communists in 1989.
Both the Social Democrats and the Communists could fight for parliamentary seats all this time.
Five opposition parties put aside their differences to create two coalitions aimed at ousting the Eurosceptic prime minister from power.
The center-right coalition Ensemble is made up of the Conservative Civic and Christian Democrat Party and the Liberal-Conservative TOP 09 Party. The Liberal Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors and independent candidates, have formed a center-right coalition. left.
Each coalition is expected to win around 20% of the vote, and both have signaled that they will cooperate in forming a new government if given the opportunity.
Babis has bet on an aggressive campaign, migration being a major topic even though his country is not a typical destination for migrants and refugees. He invited the European champion in the fight against immigration, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, to attend a campaign rally.
Babis also pledged to protect Czech sovereignty, which he said is threatened by the EU, and accused his main opponents of the elections of being “controlled” by Brussels. Babis also criticizes the 27-member bloc’s plan to tackle climate change, saying it will hurt the country’s economy and is responsible for high energy prices.
He does not rule out forming a coalition with Freedom and Direct Democracy, an anti-migrant and anti-Muslim party that wants to get the country out of the EU and hold a referendum on NATO membership. The party votes just over 10%.