Czech Social Democrats, Centrists Announce Coalition

Former finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka forms a government with parties to the right.

The Czech Republic’s Social Democrats announced a coalition agreement with two centrist parties on Monday that should pave the way for a majority government to take office six months after former prime minister Petr Nečas resigned.

Bohuslav Sobotka, who was finance minister in the last government led by the Social Democrats, is set to become prime minister, returning his party to power after nearly eight years of conservative rule.

The coalition includes a party that is led by the Central European country’s richest man, Andrej Babiš, who would be finance minister.

Babiš, an agricultural tycoon, came in second in October’s election with almost 19 percent support, having drawn many rightwingers who were disappointed in Nečas to his cause.

Nečas resigned in June after prosecutors had charged his chief of staff with bribery and illegally ordering military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations.

The third coalition partners are the Christian Democrats, giving the proposed government an eleven-seat majority. They were wiped out in the 2010 election but also benefited from Nečas’ downfall last year.

The proposed coalition aims to keep the budget deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product to comply with European fiscal rules but will not pursue deeper spending cuts.

In opposition, the Social Democrats had criticized public-sector spending cuts while conservative voters were appalled by tax increases.

The Czech economy emerged from recession only late last year. More austerity measures seem inevitable if the country is to respect the European Union’s budget rules and eventually enter the eurozone, something Babiš and many rightwingers are wary of but Sobotka’s Social Democrats favor.

Cabinet appointments are pending approval from President Miloš Zeman, himself a former Social Democratic Party leader, who has expressed reservations about Sobotka’s choice for defense minister.