Populist Andrej Babis front-runner in Czech vote, despite scandals

Czechs are voting in a parliamentary election as polls show populist billionaire prime minister Andrej Babis has a good chance of keeping his job, despite a new scandal over his financial dealings.

wo days of balloting are being held to fill 200 seats in the lower house of parliament, the main legislative body in the Czech Republic.

Eurosceptic Mr Babis, 67, has had a turbulent term in office, featuring numerous scandals.

Police have recommended that he should be indicted over alleged fraud involving EU subsidies, and a recently published EU report concluded that Mr Babis has a conflict of interest over subsidies from the bloc involving his former business empire.

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An election committee member wearing a protective suit waits for voters to vote in parliamentary elections in Prague (AP)

However, all polls favour his centrist ANO (Yes) movement to come first with at least 25% of the vote.

But it is not clear if Mr Babis will have a big enough margin of victory to be able to form a new coalition government.

The latest scandal links Mr Babis to offshore accounts.

Findings by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, dubbed the “Pandora Papers”, alleged that Mr Babis put 22 million dollars (£16 million) into shell companies to buy 16 properties in southern France.

The Pandora Papers presented details of how many of the world’s richest and most powerful people allegedly hide their wealth from tax collectors.

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The so-called Pandora Papers have focused attention on Mr Babis’ financial dealings (AP)

The French properties were not disclosed in the prime minister’s required asset declarations, according to documents obtained by the journalism group’s Czech partner.

Mr Babis has denied any wrongdoing and claims that the recent report was meant to harm him in the election.

Mr Babis has led a minority coalition government of ANO and the leftist Social Democrats.

He has also governed with the support of the Communists, who oppose the country’s Nato membership and who thus gained an indirect share in running the country for the first time since the collapse of the communist-run Eastern Bloc in 1989.

Both the Social Democrats and the Communists might struggle to win any parliamentary seats at all this time.

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Andrej Babis put millions of dollars into shell companies to buy property near Cannes, according to leaked documents (AP)

Five opposition parties have put aside their differences to create two coalitions aimed at ousting the Eurosceptic prime minister from power.

The centre-right Together coalition consists of the conservative Civic Democratic Party and Christian Democrats and the liberal-conservative TOP 09 party.

The liberal Pirate Party and Stan, a group of mayors and independent candidates, formed a centre-left coalition.

Each coalition is predicted to win about 20% of the vote, and they have both signalled that they would cooperate in forming a new government if given the chance.

Mr Babis has bet on an aggressive campaign, with migration a major topic even though his country is not a typical destination for migrants and refugees.

He invited Europe’s anti-migration champion, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, to attend a campaign rally.

Mr Babis has also pledged to protect Czech sovereignty, which he has claimed is threatened by the EU, and has accused his main opponents in the election of being “controlled” by Brussels.

He is also critical of the 27-member bloc’s plan to tackle climate change, saying it would hurt the country’s economy and is responsible for high energy prices.

Mr Babis has not ruled out forming a coalition with Freedom and Direct Democracy, an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim party that wants to lead the country out of the EU and hold a referendum on Nato membership. The party is polling at just over 10%.

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