Czechs voted in a parliamentary election for a final day Saturday, with polls suggesting Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a populist billionaire, has a good chance of retaining power despite a turbulent first term featuring numerous scandals.
Two days of balloting to fill 200 seats in the lower house of the Czech Republic”s parliament took place in the immediate wake of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reporting details of Babis’ financial dealings in a project dubbed the “Pandora Papers.”
The consortium’s findings alleged Babis put over $20 million into shell companies to buy 16 properties in France. The Pandora Papers presented details of how many of the world’s richest and most powerful people allegedly hide their wealth from tax collectors.
Babis, 67, has denied wrongdoing.
All polls favour his centrist ANO (YES) movement to place first in the election with at least 25% of the vote. But it’s not clear if the euroskeptic prime minister will win big enough to be able to form a new coalition government in the Eastern European country, which is a member of both the European Union and NATO.
Election results were expected later Saturday.
Babis, who cast his ballot in the northern town of Lovosice on Friday, called for “stability in these unstable times”.
“We should not change the government now,” he insisted.
Babis has led a minority coalition government of ANO and the leftist Social Democrats. He has also governed with the support of the maverick Communists. Both the Social Democrats and the Communists might struggle to win any parliamentary seats this time.
Five opposition parties put aside their differences to create two coalitions aimed at ousting Babis from power.
The center-right Together coalition consists of the conservative Civic Democratic Party and Christian Democrats and the liberal-conservative TOP 09 party. The liberal Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors and independent candidates, formed a center-left coalition. Each coalition is predicted to win about 20% of the vote.
During his aggressive campaign, Babis portrayed migration as a threat even though his country is not a typical destination for asylum-seekers and refugees. Ha also condemned the 27-member EU’s plan to tackle climate change.
He hasn’t ruled out forming a coalition with Freedom and Direct Democracy, an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim party that wants to lead the Czech Republic out of the EU and to hold a referendum on its NATO membership. Polls gave the party a bit over 10% support.