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1ST LEAD Billionaire's party tipped to win big in Czech vote for parliament By Michael Heitmann, dpa

Europe
20.10.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Prague (dpa) - The party of Andrej Babis, a populist billionaire who has drawn comparisons to former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and US President Donald Trump, has been tipped to win a two-day parliamentary election in the Czech Republic that began on Friday.

A recent survey showed Babis‘s ANO (Yes) Party at 25 per cent, double the forecast vote share of its nearest rivals, the Social Democrats (CSSD).

A record 31 different parties and 7,500 candidates are competing for the 200 seats in the country‘s lower chamber of parliament, the more powerful of the legislature‘s two bodies.

Babis, a 63-year-old media magnate who has been dubbed the "Czech Trump" by international media, has said he wants to "run the state like a business" and ran a campaign on opposition to refugee immigration and against closer EU integration.

Under investigation for suspected fraud linked to European Union subsidies, on Friday he promised voters after he cast his ballot in Prague to crack down on "corrupt clientelism." 

Critics warn that, following the win of the right-leaning conservative Sebastian Kurz and the strengthening of the far right in neighbouring Austria, Babis‘ triumph could deepen the trench between eastern and western Europe. 

ANO is, however, not expected to win enough to form a government without junior partners, so post-election coalition talks appear imminent. Criminal allegations against Babis could complicate that.

The conservative opposition party TOP09 leader, Miroslav Kalousek, ruled out cooperation with ANO, branding it an "extremist movement."

President Milos Zeman already said that he would use the maximum 30-day deadline until the new parliament convenes to give the parties time for negotiations.

The outgoing Czech government of Bohuslav Sobotka comprises CSSD, ANO and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). CSSD leader Sobotka, 45, has decided against running again due to personal reasons.

More than 8 million voters are eligible to cast ballots Friday until 10 pm (2000 GMT) and on Saturday from 8 am until 2 pm (0600-1200 GMT).

With ballots counted as they arrive and no projections, the first indicators of the results are expected Saturday afternoon.

In spite of the two-day voting opportunity, former president Vaclav Klaus voiced concern that what he described as a "feeble campaign" may lead a weak turnout.

 

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