Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s centrist party narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s parliamentary elections on Saturday, a surprising development that could spell the end of the populist billionaire’s reign in power.
The two-day elections to fill 200 seats in the lower house of the Czech Republic’s parliament were held shortly after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on the details of Babis’s financial transactions abroad in a project. called “Pandora Papers”. Mr. Babis has denied wrongdoing.
With nearly all votes counted, the Czech Republic Office of Statistics said Together, a three-party liberal-conservative coalition, won 27.8% of the vote, beating Babis’s ANO (Yes) party, which won. 27.1%.
In another blow to the populists, another center-left liberal coalition of the Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors, received 15.6% of the vote to finish third, the statistics office reported.
“The two democratic coalitions have won a majority and have the opportunity to form a majority government,” said Petr Fiala, leader of Together and their candidate for prime minister.
Five opposition parties with policies closer to the mainstream of the European Union compared to the populist Mr. Babis put aside their differences in this election to create the two coalitions, seeking to overthrow the Eurosceptic Prime Minister from power.
The result means “an absolute change in policy in the Czech Republic,” analyst Michal Klima told Czech public television. “It stabilizes the country’s position in the field of the West.”
“It is a great defeat for [Mr. Babis]”He added.
The main anti-migrant and anti-Muslim force in the Czech Republic, the Freedom and Direct Democracy party, finished in fourth place with a support of 9.6%.
Both the Social Democrats and the Communists, the country’s traditional parliamentary parties, failed to win seats in parliament for the first time since the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
Mr. Babis has had a turbulent tenure with numerous scandals, but all the public polls prior to the vote had favored his ANO party to win the election.
“We didn’t expect to lose,” Babis said. “We accept it.”
Still, he declared that the election results were “excellent.”
Before the vote, Mr. Babis headed a minority coalition government of ANO and the Social Democrats in the Eastern European country of 10.7 million people, which is a member of both the European Union and NATO. He has also ruled with the support of nonconformist communists.
The leader of the strongest party usually has the opportunity to form a new government. President Milos Zeman did not immediately comment, but previously indicated that he will first appoint the leader of the winning party, not the winning coalition, to try to form a new government, which would be Mr. Babis. The two leaders will meet on Sunday.
“We are the strongest party,” Babis said. “If the president asks me to create a government, I will open negotiations about it.”
Any new government has to win a parliamentary vote of confidence to rule, however, and Mr. Babis and his potential partner, the Freedom Party, don’t have enough support for that.