Czech opposition plans no-confidence vote in Babis before October poll

·2 min read
European Social Summit in Porto

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Five Czech opposition parties plan a no-confidence vote in June against Prime Minister Andrej Babis's government after it lost its supporting majority in parliament, but they face little chance of removing the billionaire leader before October elections.

The parties, who will run in two separate coalitions in the general election, are the closest challengers to Babis's ANO party, which has dominated Czech politics since 2013.

ANO has continuously topped opinion polls by a wide margin but has fallen behind the leading coalition of the Pirate and Mayors' parties this year amid the pandemic.

The Pirates/Mayors group has joined an initiative by a coalition of the Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and conservative TOP09 parties to call a no-confidence vote.

But together the parties command 68 votes in the 200-seat lower house of parliament, short of the 101 votes needed to win.

Their leaders said on Wednesday a vote was necessary to see who stood behind the government, which they have criticised for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has only begun to ease in the country after huge spikes in infections and deaths.

Before April, the far-left Communist party had propped up the minority government, formed between ANO and the leftist Social Democrats that hold 92 seats together, but it withdrew its support after a spat.

The Communists, who have 15 seats, have yet to say how they would vote.

Babis has long faced criticism for conflicts of interest over his holdings in the food, chemical and media group Agrofert that he founded but put into trusts to meet Czech legislation rules.

Critics say he remains the main beneficiary owner, which Babis denies.

Even if the government lost the vote, President Milos Zeman has said he would keep Babis on as prime minister. Critics fear this would increase the pro-Russian president's powers for a period.

Moscow and Prague are currently embroiled in their deepest diplomatic row since the end of Soviet-backed Communist rule in 1989, after government allegations that Russian agents had a part in explosions at an ammunitions depot in 2014. Russia has denied this.

The country is also looking to launch a tender for a multi-billion dollar nuclear power unit in which Russian participation has been opposed by most parties on security grounds.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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