Embattled Czech government survives no-confidence vote

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the last week to protest Prime Minister Andrej Babis's leadership.

    Babis is embroiled in a corruption scandal over EU subsidies but he denies any wrongdoing [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]
    Babis is embroiled in a corruption scandal over EU subsidies but he denies any wrongdoing [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

    The Czech Republic's minority government survived a vote of no confidence called by the opposition after a series of huge protests against Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

    The no-confidence vote secured the backing of just 85 parliamentarians in the 200-seat lower house on Thursday, after 17 hours of debate that stretched past midnight.

    The result was expected after the ruling ANO's coalition partner - the centre-left Social Democrats - and the Communist Party, which has also been backing the government, both refused to join opposition parties to remove Babis.

    A 64-year-old Slovak-born billionaire, who made his fortune as the founder and owner of the sprawling Agrofert food, chemicals and media holding, Babis has come under fire over allegedly murky business dealings.

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    He faces police charges in connection with a $2.25m European Union subsidy scam, and an ongoing EU audit into his dual role as politician and entrepreneur. 

    Five opposition parties requested the vote after a preliminary EU report concluded the subsidies amounted to a conflict of interest because he still formally controls the businesses. 

    Addressing parliament in the capital, Prague, before the vote, Babis called it "an attempt to destabilise our country".

    "We do not want [an early election] and I hope that our government rules until the end of its mandate," he said.

    Babis staunchly denied any wrongdoing, insisting the EU report contained "errors". He has characterised other allegations against him as being part of a smear campaign.

    Protests and popularity

    Babis has been the target of mass rallies since April, when he caused controversy by appointing Marie Benesova as justice minister. Benesova is seen as an ally who could sweep the charges against Babis under the rug.

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    His government lost a no-confidence vote in January, but rallied to form a new coalition and survived yet another vote of no confidence in November, when only 92 opposition MPs backed the motion.

    In order to unseat the government in the latest vote, the opposition would have required 101 votes.

    However, with the coalition support of the Social Democrats and the unofficial backing of the Communist Party, ANO enjoys a parliamentary majority of 108 seats.

    On Sunday, more than 250,000 people rallied in Prague demanding that Babis resign in the biggest protest the Czech Republic has seen since the fall of communism in 1989.

    Despite the uproar, ANO - described by its critics as a one-man party - tops opinion polls in the country and won May's European Parliament elections

    SOURCE: News agencies