New Czech leader rules out coalition with far-right party

Czech vote winner Adrej Babis said Saturday he did not want to form a government with an extremist parties, attempting to calm fears he may seek a coalition with a far-right faction.

Babis’s centrist ANO movement won a landslide, capturing 29.6 percent of the vote, or 78 of the 200 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the Czech Statistics Office said Saturday.

Aside from Babis, a magnate dubbed the “Czech Trump” and seen as a political maverick, the vote saw major gains for other outsider parties, including the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party, which took fourth place with 10.6% support, or 22 seats.

The party, which surged to its best-ever showing, is seen as the most radical anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-EU party in the country, and some have speculated Babis may try to join forces with them as he attempts to form a governing coalition.

But Babis dismissed the idea Saturday.

“I do not want to cooperate with them,” he told Reuters.

While, expressing support for Austria’s recently elected euroskeptic leader Sebastian Kurz, who is also thought to be in coalition talks with a far-right party, Babis said he wanted to form a coalition with mainstream factions.

“We have invited everyone for talks. We want to hear all arguments at a table; the arguments they have (mainstream parties against joining a coalition) … they don’t need to worry when they come with us,” he told Reuters.

Some experts see a strong shift to the right for the Czech Republic if Babis works out a coalition government with Tomio Okamura, head of the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (SPD), who wants to ban Islam and organize a referendum to exit the EU.

“Should (Babis) join forces with Okamura, the Czech Republic would be facing difficult times,” analyst Michal Klima told Czech television.

The party is seen as aligned with other far-right anti-EU parties to make major gains across Europe in the past year, including France’s National Front, Germany’s AfD and Austria’s FPOe. Many of those parties have been accused of anti-Semitism.

National Front head Marine Le Pen sent Okamura a message of support as results came in Saturday.

“I see this as a threat to liberal democracy” in this EU member of 10.6 million people, Tomas Lebeda, a political analyst at Palacky University in the central city of Olomouc, told AFP regarding SPD’s gains.

Babis also told Reuters he did not want to sit in a coalition with the Communist Party, which got 7.8% of the vote, or 15 seats.

The new leader himself has been critical of the EU and opposes setting a date for when his country would adopt the shared euro currency.

But Babis played down his euroskeptic views after his victory.Like most Czech parties, ANO also rejects accepting refugees under the EU’s quota system.

“We’re oriented on Europe,” he said. “We’re not a threat for democracy. I’m ready to fight for our interests in Brussels. We’re a firm part of the European Union. We’re a firm part of NATO.”

Coming in a distant second in voting Saturday was the opposition conservative Civic Democrats, with 11.3% of the vote, or 25 seats. They were the strongest mainstream party. The Pirate Party won seats for the first time, coming in third with 10.8% of the vote, or 22 seats.

Among other mainstream parties, the Social Democrats, the senior party in the outgoing government, captured only 7.3% — 15 seats — while the Christian Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, won only 5.8% support or 10 seats.

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