PRAGUE: The Czech parliament is expected to back the new, centre-left minority cabinet led by billionaire Andrej Babis on Wednesday, ending his nine-month struggle to secure a parliamentary majority.
Most parties rejected working with Babis because he faces fraud charges related to a 2 million euro EU subsidy a decade ago. He denies any wrongdoing but the case prevented him from forming the centre-right coalition he said he would have preferred after his ANO party won an election last October.
Eventually, Babis convinced the centre-left Social Democrats to join the ANO movement, which he founded, in a minority administration, which has 93 seats in the 200-seat lower house of parliament.
To secure a majority, he struck a deal with the pro-Russian and anti-NATO Communists, who have 15 deputies in the lower house, to support the cabinet. This gives the once-outcast party a political say for the first time since the fall of Communism.
The confidence vote, mandatory for any new cabinet, is expected sometime later on Wednesday.
The Communist Party leadership agreed to the deal even though Babis, who has served as a caretaker prime minister since a first attempt to win confidence for a one-party cabinet failed in January, refused some of their demands.
One was for cutbacks in the Czech contribution to NATO military missions abroad; another for representation on the supervisory board of the biggest state-controlled company, electricity producer CEZ.
Babis's appeal stems from his image as someone who can dislodge the mainstream parties, seen by many voters as ridden with corruption. His rise to the top of Czech politics comes with that of populist movements across a number of European Union countries.
He has pledged to raise wages and increase investments into shoddy roads while keeping a strong anti-immigration stance.
The Communists are allied with pro-Russian President Milos Zeman, and their role in supporting the cabinet will help the president's leverage over the cabinet.
But Babis has said repeatedly that he would keep the country on a pro-western course and avoid the kind of sparring over the rule of law that has landed Poland and Hungary in conflict with the EU.
Babis faces accusations by the opposition of eroding democracy due to the vast empire he built in chemicals, farming and also media. He has transferred the group to a trust fund to comply with conflict of interest law.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)