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Billionaire Populist Likely Next Czech Prime Minister

  • Associated Press

Czech billionaire and leader of ANO 2011 political movement Andrej Babis accompanied with his wife, Monika, addresses the media after most of the votes were counted in the parliamentary elections in Prague, Czech Republic, Oct. 21, 2017.

The centrist ANO movement led by populist Andrej Babis decisively won the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election Saturday in a vote that shifted the country to the right and paved the way for the euroskeptic billionaire to become its next prime minister.

With all votes counted, the Czech Statistics Office said ANO won in a landslide, capturing 29.6 percent of the vote, or 78 of the 200 seats in the lower house of Parliament.

“It’s a huge success,” the 63-year-old Babis told supporters and journalists at his headquarters in Prague.

Babis is the county’s second-richest man, with a media empire including two major newspapers and a popular radio station.

Although he was a finance minister in the outgoing government until May, many Czechs see him as a maverick outsider with the business acumen to shake up the system. With slogans claiming he can easily fix the country’s problems, he is, for some, the Czech answer to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Since the leader of the strongest party usually forms a new government, Babis could be the country’s next leader despite being linked to several scandals, including being charged by police with fraud linked to European Union subsidies.

The charges will likely make it difficult for Babis to find the coalition partners he needs to build a parliamentary majority. He didn’t immediately say which parties he preferred but has invited all parties that won seats in parliament for talks.

In a blow to the country’s political elite, four of the top five vote-getting parties Saturday had challenged the traditional political mainstream. Some have exploited fears of immigration and Islam and have been attacking the country’s memberships in the EU and NATO.

The opposition conservative Civic Democrats came in a distant second Saturday with 11.3 percent of the vote, or 25 seats. They were the strongest mainstream party. The Social Democrats, the senior party in the outgoing government, captured only 7.3 percent — 15 seats — while the Christian Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, won only 5.8 percent support or 10 seats.

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