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Czech government survives no-confidence vote but remains fragile after mass protests

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By Euronews with Reuters
FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session
FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a parliamentary session   -   Copyright  November 23, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

The Czech government led by the populist ANO party on Thursday survived a vote of no confidence in parliament after massive protests against Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

While the vote has given Babis temporary respite, the fate of his cabinet still hangs in the balance as pressure from coalition partners and EU authorities mounts.

Babis, a billionaire turned politician, is under investigation for alleged fraud concerning EU subsidies and conflicts of interest regarding ties to his former business empire. He vehemently denies the claims.

The no-confidence motion, called by the opposition, secured just 85 votes in the 200-seat lower house of parliament after 17 hours of debate.

The outcome was expected after ANO's coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democrats, and the Communist party, which has also backed the government, both declined to join opposition parties in ousting Babis.

"I take this initiative as an attempt to destabilise the country," Babis told parliament before the vote. "We do not want (early elections) and I hope that our government rules until the end of its mandate."

A fragile coalition

However, the Social Democrats' relationship with ANO has been increasingly fragile, and a number of party officials have spoken out in favour of leaving the cabinet. On Thursday, the party said it would again weigh up whether to quit, irked by President Milos Zeman's refusal to appoint a new culture minister from among its ranks.

The government could survive losing the Social Democrats by leaning on the support of the Communists as well as the far-right, anti-European Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD). Babis had in the past, however, shunned an alliance with the far right.

Pressure from the streets and Brussels

On Sunday, more than a quarter of a million people demanded that Babis quit in the biggest public protest in the country since the end of communist rule in 1989.

Around year-end, the European Commission will also finalise audits whose preliminary findings showed Babis had a conflict of interest and some of his former firms received millions of euros in EU aid illegally.

The EU audit could be a headache for Babis if it means his former business empire has to return some past EU aid and loses access to future funding.

In such a scenario, analysts have said Babis may decide to step aside himself and nominate a loyalist colleague as prime minister while continuing as decision-maker behind the scenes.

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